Washington Nationals and USO Kick Off ‘Me & a Friend’ Program for Kids

By Brian Price

Our nation’s “Patriot Six” culminates this July 4th weekend, but appreciation for our troops and their families will continue throughout the baseball season. The Washington Nationals, in conjunction with the USO of Metropolitan Washington, have started a new program that provides military kids free tickets to Sunday’s game when star pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, takes the mound. The Nationals will provide free tickets to thousands of young fans throughout the rest of the season.

Craig Stammen chats with USO Vice President Kevin Wensing (r).

USO Vice President Kevin Wensing is especially pleased that the Nationals have taken this initiative. “We hope this is just the beginning and that other pro teams take a page out of the Nationals’ book and get involved with military family and friends across the country,”

In anticipation of Sunday’s festivities, Nationals players and their manager, Jim Riggleman, offered their thoughts on the meaning of the holiday and the military families who will be coming out to the ballpark.

BP: What does the “Me & a Friend” Program mean to you?

Jim Riggleman: “I’m so proud of every soldier for defending us. I think what the troops do is the most important thing that anybody can do for his country. Playing baseball pales in comparison to what the troops do. We provide entertainment. However, I’m honored that we can be the first team to get ‘Me and a Friend’ started. For a young person to have a loved one in combat is an unimaginably difficult thing. If baseball can give them a few moments of comfort than that’s more satisfying than anything I can think of. I’m excited for them to come out to the ballpark.”

BP: What’s special about playing in our nation’s capital?

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, #11: “Washington D.C. is a great patriotic city to live in and play baseball in, especially during July 4th weekend. We play within view of the capital building, which is a special thing. We’re always trying to do things to stay connected to the troops and to show our appreciation. I know the whole club is really excited to kick off the ‘Me and a Friend’ program. Everyday we’re thankful for what our troops do. We live in a great country.”

J.D. Martin, SP, #51: “One of my favorite moments each home game is when we welcome home troops [in the 3rd inning]. They get put up on the jumbo screen and they always receive a standing ovation. It’s great getting a chance to acknowledge them.”

BP: What does this holiday mean to you?

Craig Stammen, SP, #35: “The only reason I’m able to do what I do is because of the troops. For most Americans July 4th means fireworks and barbeques, but it’s like any other day for a soldier in that they’re still risking their lives for the independence that we civilians are celebrating. I appreciate all soldiers and can’t thank them enough.”

(L to R) Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, and Adam Dunn observe the National Anthem.

BP: Do you have any friends in the service?

Riggleman: “I just returned a letter to a veteran who was a ball boy for me when I was managing in the minors. He served in the U.S. Marines for 20 years. His first passion in life was serving this country. His second is baseball, so after having served he’s back and I’m trying to help find him a job in baseball.”

Stammen: “My college roommate enlisted in Officer Candidate School about two years ago. After, he spent a year in Afghanistan and now he’s at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. I try to speak with him as often as I can and keep him close to my heart.”

“The thing about him, and really any soldier, is that they’ll never let on to how tough it is in combat. We’ll play on a hot day and the first thing we do after the game is shower. He’s in combat, it’s 40 degrees hotter and he might not be able to shower for days at a time.”

Martin: “A good family friend, Mike Hill, was in Iraq and he was responding to a roadside bomb. He was helping to pick up a wounded soldier on a stretcher when a landmine went off. It killed several troops around him and he was seriously injured. I’m from a small town, so that’s something that everybody heard about. We were just glad he made it out alive.”

Jim Riggleman summed up perfectly: “Our troops provide safety for us and some of them don’t come back. As Americans, that’s something we need to always appreciate especially when we’re celebrating our independence. Freedom’s not free and they’re the ones paying the price.”

The Washington Nationals and the USO of Metropolitan Washington have teamed up to give military kids the opportunity to enjoy a baseball game with their friends through the “Me and a Friend” program, which formally kicks off on July 4 when the Nationals host the New York Mets in Washington, D.C at 1:35 p.m..

Tickets for the July 4th game are available on a first come first serve basis through USO-Metro’s TicketLine program and must be picked up at the USO office at 228 McNair Road Bldg 405 Fort Myer, VA 22211.  Military families can also visit http://www.usometro.org/tickets to check on availability.

Washington Nationals Show They Care

As their 2010 Winter Caravan rolled into Fort Belvoir, the Washington Nationals faced a daunting task: getting hundreds and hundreds of Operation USO Care Packages stuffed and ready to send to deploying troops. Luckily they had support in the form of Wounded Warriors, a JROTC group, USO Metro staff and volunteers and – of course – Screech, their mascot.

Prospects Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen, current player Ryan Speier, manager Jim Riggleman, Nationals Senior VP & General Manager Mike Rizzo, and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network Analyst Rob Dibble got the job done, dropping toiletries, snacks, games, and other items into the USO’s signature Care Package bags and showing their fans and new friends a great time along the way.

Here’s a photo essay recapping this great event.  Look for video soon!

The USO warehouse at Fort Belvoir is home to Operation USO Care Package. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Nats' players and prospects lined up next to Troops as they stuffed the care packages. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Screech and members of the Hayfield Secondary School JROTC get the job done. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

A view from the top as players and volunteers work the assembly line. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Screech takes a stretch while Espinosa keeps on going. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman is interviewed for On Patrol magazine. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

It didn't matter if you were wearing a baseball jersey or fatigues: teamwork was the spirit of the day! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

The Care Packages were flying fast and furious as volunteers whisked them down the line. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Colonel Jerry L. Blixt, the Garrison Commander at Fort Belvoir greets a JROTC volunteer. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Boots vs. Cleats: who would win? We go with boots! (USO Photo by Em Hall)