OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The visitors’ dugout at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach was littered with the usual paraphernalia on Saturday but also with the unusual.
Among the tumble of water bottles, baseball bats and equipment bags were prosthetic legs of all shapes and sizes. The dugout was home for the day to the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. Thirteen of the team’s 25 players – all military veterans missing limbs, many of them from combat – flew in from around the country to go up against the Maine Army National Guard team.
“It’s a really awesome experience, hanging out with these guys,” said Bobby McCardle, of Franklin, Wisconsin, who lost a leg while serving in Iraq in 2007.
McCardle, who plays first, second and third bases for the team, and his teammates spent Friday and Saturday in Maine playing exhibition games and trying to raise awareness and inspire others by showing how military veteran amputees are able to overcome obstacles.
The one-of-a-kind team was formed by David Van Sleet of Estero, Florida. Team members travel about 36 weekends a year around the country playing any able-bodied team willing to go up against them.
Their visit to The Ballpark Saturday was organized and sponsored by the civic group OOB365, the Rotary Clubs of Saco Bay and Biddeford, the Amvets Post of Biddeford, The Patriot Riders and Wounded Heroes Program of Maine.
Most of the Wounded Warrior players are Marine and Army veterans, with two from the Air Force and one from the Navy.
“It is self-explanatory. It is who is on the battlefield,” said Van Sleet, explaining the preponderance of Army and Marine veterans.
The team members depend on sponsors to pick up their room and board costs while the Armed Forces Foundation pays for their travel expenses.
Wounded Warrior teammates say getting together with other amputee veterans to play softball provides support they can’t find anywhere else.
“Personally I need the camaraderie,” said Tom Carlo of Bronx, New York, who quit Princeton University and its baseball team to volunteer for the Marines. He lost his leg in a car wreck while training in North Carolina.
Carlo said the team welcomes whatever the competition can throw at them.
“We don’t underestimate anybody,” said Carlo.
Across the field at the Maine National Guard dugout, players said they would be happy if they could keep the score close as they eyed their opponents at practice.
“The general consensus is we are incredibly impressed and very humbled,” said Capt. Scott Baker, spokesman for the Maine team.
Some of the spectators said they came to cheer on the veterans and enjoy a Maine baseball game in perfect weather conditions.
“They seem to be good hitters,” said Carl Friedman of Saco.
Jeff King of Lewiston said he was cheering for the visitors.
“But either way, it doesn’t matter to me,” said King.
The final score was good news for King because the Wounded Warriors won, 18-14.