Major leaguers weigh in on the military

By CHRISTOPHER SMITH | The Eagle-Tribune | Published: May 25, 2014

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander is rather superstitious.

So when he didn't pitch well the first time his then-girlfriend sat in his Comerica Park suite several years ago, Verlander decided she should sit somewhere else for future starts.

Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner, then began to donate the suite on days he started to injured veterans and their families. The idea came to him when the Tigers had military personnel deliver the game ball to the mound before games.

Verlander calls the program "Victory for Veterans." He also has a charity "Wins for Warriors," which aids veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. The charity also helps these veterans' families and funds research on post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Because it's not just an individual problem," Verlander said. "It's a family problem. It's just something I care a lot about and I'm passionate about. I've always thought I've got the opportunity to play this game I love because of these men and women."

In honor of Memorial Day tomorrow, we asked major leaguers for their thoughts on the military.

Major League Baseball does a good job honoring the military. The San Diego Padres, for example, began wearing camouflage uniforms in 2000 on their annual Military Opening Day. What became a one-year tradition now is almost a weekly tradition. These uniforms are worn every Sunday when the Padres play at home.

The Red Sox honor at least one military member each game and also created the Home Base Program with Mass. General Hospital to support local Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

Red Sox players also visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center earlier this year.

"It was special to see the real heroes who go out there and fight for our freedom and do what they do to protect us," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "Just to see them and tell them 'Thank you' means the world."

Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow added, "I think it's fairly common that you go in there with the expectation that you're going to brighten someone's day. And actually, what happens is the reverse of that. You see these true heroes so passionate about protecting us and it lifts us as much or more so than the other way around."

Tigers pitcher -- 2011 AL Cy Young winner and MVP
"My cousin (Christopher Verlander) did three tours in Afghanistan. He came home for Christmas one time and showed us this video he had on his phone. It was something that happened there when they were in their bunker. A rocket was shot at them or something and he just happened to catch it on video. And he was like, 'Oh, watch right here. You can see the rocket come at us.' And then they all duck down and everything explodes around them. The rocket thankfully came up short.

"It was just kind of crazy. And he was just matter-of-fact telling me the story about it. I'm like, 'Good Lord, man. You got a rocket being shot at you right here in this video.'"

Tigers starting pitcher -- 2013 AL Cy Young winner
"I had an uncle who served, and I obviously respect what the military does. Actually, a really cool thing this year, on our off day in San Diego I had a chance to go see the Navy SEALs (at Naval Base Coronado).

"It was unbelievable to go see where they train and everything they do, their obstacle courses. We were in a gun simulator and we got to fire and go through a training session. That was just absolutely awesome. And then later that day I also got onto the USS Carl Vinson.

"I got hooked up with one of the pilots there and one of the air bosses so I got a whole tour of the aircraft carrier. You could just feel the intensity. When you get a first-hand view of it, I have so much more respect for what they do and what they've accomplished."

Red Sox bench coach -- major league managerial candidate
"It's a very special day for several reasons but I especially think of my uncle Joe, who was a Lieutenant-colonel for the Marines and spent the majority of his life protecting our freedom. He spent a lot of time in Vietnam. I know that was a tough war for the United States to be in. And he risked his life and saved a lot of lives as well.

"I also think of my grandma who had three sons at the same time in one war and they sent for two of them to come home because they just felt like at that time that they should not have three boys -- the entire family -- at war at the same time. So they sent for my dad and my uncle Tony from the Korean War."

Blue Jays bullpen coach -- ex-Red Sox pitcher
"My dad was in World War II. He was in the Navy. (His ships) got blown up a couple times ... but he survived. And my son-in-law, who married my oldest daughter, just got out. He was a Green Beret, Special Forces. He was a sniper. He did like four tours over in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia. So he's a mean dude.

"He had got injured in Iraq. He was in a Humvee (attacked) by road-side bombs (nobody died in the incident). ... He hurt his back and he couldn't do the job that he used to do like jumping out of planes and that. So he had to get out. That's how my daughter met him, when he was injured."

Red Sox second baseman -- 2008 AL MVP
"All of them inspire me. They're the real heroes. You appreciate what everyone has done for us, protecting us. It's pretty special. The highest you can think of somebody, that's the way I think of everyone (in the military).

"I went to Arizona State and Pat Tillman, (the former NFL player who left the league to enlist) obviously went there. My uncle's the defensive coordinator there and I got to know his brother Kevin (Tillman) pretty well. He's probably the closest one that served who I know."
Editor's note: Pat and Kevin both were Army Rangers and they went to war together. Pat died while serving.

Red Sox outfielder -- 153 career homers
"My leg tattoo is a full-sleeve, it's a tribute tattoo to the military. I've got fatigues in my locker right now. I think my passion kind of started in 2001, my second year of junior college, I didn't have any college scholarships so it was time to hit the real world and I decided I was going to enroll in the service. I just about enrolled and then I end up unexpectedly getting drafted (by Tampa Bay).

"So if it wasn't for baseball, I would have been in the military. So I definitely have a soft spot for them. And I do a lot of charity work (for the troops). ... And I do what I can to keep those guys in mind. They're out of sight but they're definitely not out of mind."

Blue Jays DH -- 2009 Silver Slugger winner
"I had an uncle that went to Vietnam and Korea. I had another uncle that went to Vietnam. One uncle goes to all the rallies and that stuff. I remember when I was young we always went to the Indy 500. That was like the big event so that was cool. That's on Memorial Weekend."

Note: Lind's dad was in the military, too.

Blue Jays starting pitcher -- threw perfect game in '09
"If it comes to military stuff, going to a veterans hospital or somewhere wounded warriors are at, I'm all in. I did it a few times when I was with the White Sox. We'd go to Baltimore and go over there to a few of those hospitals in the Washington area.

"Some of them had just gotten out of surgery. Some of them had just got back the day before from war and just got flown in. Some guys have had 12 surgeries. ... We went into the rehab area and we (saw) guys in there not walking and guys without arms trying to use their body and just trying to get use to everyday life and how they're going to have to live it. So just even in Toronto now, anytime military people are around, I try to go up and say, 'Thanks for your service. We do what we do because of you guys.'"

Note: Buehrle's dad served.

Red Sox reliever -- 1.81 ERA in 2013
"I don't have any immediate family members or friends who have are serving currently or have served in the military in the recent past. But nonetheless, I certainly appreciate and admire those who have made the sacrifice. I think there are times when we take our safeties and freedoms for granted. But particularly in this industry, I think we do a pretty good job of recognizing the incredible risks and sacrifices that our servicemen and servicewomen take."



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