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Kansas City Royals legends going to the Middle East to watch a game with the troops

Former Kansas City Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen greets third base coach Mike Jirschele, left, before a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, July 8, 2015, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Saberhagen will join three other Royals legends on a trip to the Middle East with the USO to watch baseball games with American troops stationed there.

JOHN SLEEZER/KANSAS CITY STAR/TNS

By PETE GRATHOFF | The Kansas City Star | Published: August 23, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — This is down on the list of sacrifices military members make while serving this country, but it’s difficult for servicemen and women to watch their hometown team’s games.

So for a few days at least, the Royals are coming to the troops who are serving in the Middle East.

Former Royals players George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Mike Sweeney and Reggie Sanders will greet U.S. troops at four sites in the Middle East next month in partnership with Fox Sports Kansas City and the USO.

One of the highlights of the trip will be a visit to the Missouri National Guard’s 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, which is based in Sedalia.

“It’s a very humbling gesture that the Royals and the folks that will be traveling with the Royals are going to make for this particular trip,” Capt. Aaron Shaffer said in phone interview from the Middle East. “We’ve got a lot of people here who are diehard, great Royals fans and the types of fans that go back to the 80s ... It’s going to be an amazing experience.”

The former Royals will join the troops to watch the Sept. 11 game against the White Sox, which will be shown on American Forces Network. Back in Kansas City, more than 300 family members of the brigade will be at Kauffman Stadium and some will be interviewed on FSKC during its “This One’s For You” broadcast.

FSKC’s Joel Goldberg also will be in the Middle East and plans to share stories of the military members during the broadcast. During last year’s “This One’s For You” broadcast, the service members and their families were able to talk with one another during the game.

Sweeney said it will be special being with the troops on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“To be asked to go to the Middle East to support our troops and represent the Kansas City Royals and to do it alongside three of the greatest Royals ever to put on a uniform ... it’s a real honor,” Sweeney said. “To look those men and women in the eyes on Sept. 11, it’s going to be an emotional experience. I hope the troops get as much out of it as we do.”

Sweeney said during his playing days he purchased tickets for military members to watch him at work. Now he’ll see them at their jobs.

“They’re fighting for our freedom, they’re defending this great country and they’re the backbone of everything we have here,” Sweeney said. “So to actually fly around the world and be a part of what they’re doing, it’s a dream come true. ...

“To be that close to some crazy stuff going on, it’s a little bit scary. It’s a little scary to leave my wife and five kids, but then I think to myself, our military, they do that everyday. They leave their wives and kids behind and fly or sail across the world to defend our freedom. So if they’re doing it, why not us?”

Shaffer said the troops enjoy the opportunities to watch baseball games because it connects them to their families back home. In most cases, however, those contests are not shown live. So the Sept. 11 game will be a treat.

“We are here doing a job that we’ve been asked to do and a job that we are proud to be given the opportunity to complete,” he said. “Once we finish here and enjoy some of the things like this event with the Royals, we’re going to do our jobs to the best that we can and then we’ll be home to spend our time with our family.”

©2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
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