In the first two iterations of the Washington Nationals’ Wounded Warrior Celebrity Softball Classic, the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team absolutely whooped their D.C. celebrity opponents, winning by double digits.
For this year’s event on Sunday afternoon, organizers decided to mix things up, blending Warriors with celebrities on a Blue team and a White team, for a decidedly more competitive game. The White team won, 10-9, on a walk-off run in the top of the fifth (the game was under a 50-minute time limit).
“These guys will show up in towns all across America and those towns think, ‘Oh, we have to give those guys a break,’ but they find out pretty quickly how good these guys are at playing softball,” said Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is made up of veterans who have lost a limb or part of a limb while serving, predominantly Army and Marine Corps veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom who were injured in combat.
General Manager David Van Sleet, an Army veteran and retired Veterans Affairs Department prosthetist, created the team in March 2011. What began as a one-week amputee softball camp at the University of Arizona has become a successful nonprofit organization, with 20 team members who travel from every corner of the country, funded purely by donations.
In the beginning, Van Sleet put out calls to local VA centers and military hospitals to see if they could recommend their best athletes.
“Now, to be honest, they find us,” he said. His team has grown to nearly twice its original size in the past year.
The team plays year-round, in tournaments and local exhibition games, often against military and first-responder teams. As a rule, they don’t play other amputees, but they made an exception this time.
The D.C. celebrities included Winnefeld, local sports broadcasters, television actors, Nationals players’ wives and other local personalities.
Members of the Warriors played on the White team with “House of Cards” star Sakina Jaffrey and Nationals wives Chelsey Desmond and Jill Hairston.
Winnefeld, “NCIS” star Brian Dietzen and Jennifer LaRoche, wife of Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, joined other Warriors on the Blue team.
Retired Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Wege, 23, lost both of his lower legs below the knee when his military police patrol vehicle ran over a 200-pound improvised explosive device in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province back in 2009. An athlete throughout his life, with a particular love for baseball, Wege was determined to get back to sports once he learned to move on his prosthetic legs.
“As soon as I had an opportunity to come play on this team, I jumped on it,” he said. “It was a part of my life that I wanted to get back, and this team has given me the opportunity to do that.”
Wege, playing for the White team, hit an inside-the-park home run on his first at-bat, rounding the bases swiftly on his newest pair of carbon-fiber prostheses.
Winnefeld singled on his first at-bat as well — though it was more of a foul tip that stayed fair, confusing catcher Jaffrey. He made contact again in the third inning, knocking in a run with a line drive to center.
On the other hand, he struggled a bit at center field and then third base, dropping a blooper to center and allowing the batter to round the bases.
“First, we’re going to get over the errors committed by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” when asked about his strategy going into the fourth inning.
The team’s motto is, “Life without a limb is limitless.” Words like inspirational, hero and role model are often used to describe the Warriors, but Winnefeld summed everything up nicely.
“It’s very symbolic of our nation, and we’re having a blast,” he said.
For more on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, check out thewwast.org.
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