GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Staff Sgt. Pablo Dominguez stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first, lifted his bat and took the pitch from … Wade Boggs?
Yes, that Wade Boggs. The Hall of Fame third baseman briefly stalked the mound during a Wiffle Ball game here Wednesday, part of a three-day Fox Sports promotion to bring a taste of the American pastime to soldiers stationed in Europe.
Boggs and fellow major leaguers past and present, including Rollie Fingers, David Justice and Bob Brenly, are signing autographs, visiting with soldiers and meeting students across the garrison through Thursday. “Spring Training to the Troops” comes as pitchers and catchers in the major leagues prepare to report to team camps.
“To me it’s a lot of fun because it’s an opportunity for us to come out here and see the troops and have a good time,” said Justice, who won a pair of World Series titles with the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees.
Wednesday, Justice and the others joined soldiers with the 709th MP Battalion and 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade for Wednesday’s Wiffle Ball contest, a hammed-up affair complete with umpires, cheerleaders and a Fox Sports broadcaster, Mario Impemba, the Tigers’ play-by-play man.
“Where’s the beer?” Boggs quipped.
Sgt. Bradley Beal of the 709th compared lineup notes with Fingers, a Hall of Fame pitcher with 16 World Series appearances, three rings and an iconic mustache.
“It’s surreal,” said Beal, a Texas Rangers fan. “Every time they talk to me, I’m like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’”
Chris Hannan, a senior vice president at Fox Sports Media Group, said the three-day promotion is a first for the network, which has held similar events promoting football. Grafenwöhr was the first choice, he said.
“When we talked to the military, finding out there was a training installation, the biggest one in Europe, it made sense,” he said.
The MPs won, 5-2. Few in the 172nd seemed disappointed. Soldiers brought baseball cards to be autographed, and they had pictures taken with the stars.
Besides, how many can say they’ve played against the likes of Boggs and Fingers?
“To play with some Hall of Famers,” said the 172nd’s Dominguez, “is pretty cool.”