Heroes Meeting Heroes

Elmer was shot in the chest by sniper. Eric was hit by a hundred pieces of shrapnel. Jeromye was hit by a mortar and thrown in the air as high as a palm tree. He walks with a cane and has to rely on his wife to remind him to take his daily doses of painkillers, antidepressants, mood stabilizers and seizure meds. Christopher was blown up by an IED while crossing a bridge and tossed onto the riverbank below. His left arm, crushed in the fall, is strafed with ropey scars.

They and about 25 of their fellow Marines were gathered at Frasher’s restaurant in Scottsdale Saturday night for dinner. Their host: Barry Zito.

Zito flew the wounded Marines in from San Diego, where they are rehabilitating at Balboa Naval Hospital. He put them up in hotels, bought tickets to Giants games and hosted Saturday’s dinner. The group returned to San Diego Sunday.

“Pinch me,” Elmer Ugarte said as he surveyed the dining room packed with maroon-shirted Marines socializing with Randy Winn, Brian Wilson, Jack Taschner, Alex Hinshaw, Matt Cain, Orlando Hudson, Noah Lowry, C.J. Wilson and Zito.

“I can’t call this amazing,” Ugarte said, “because amazing is something you think might happen. Unbelievable is something I thought would never happen.”

The trip was part of Zito’s efforts to ease the recovery of injured troops. He founded Strikeouts for Troops in 2005 and has raised almost $2 million. The idea behind the fund is to give the recovering men and women the comforts of home, largely by providing transportation and housing so loved ones can be nearby.

Zito has recruited nearly 70 fellow ball players to contribute money for every strikeout, home run or RBI.

“All we do is throw a ball around,” said Hinshaw, who attended the dinner with his fianc, Courtney. “They fight for our country and for our freedom. They look up to us but we’re the ones who look up to them.”

Said Wilson, “As baseball players, we represent our city and team. They represent our country.”

Rick Williams of the Marine Corps League of San Diego recalled one of Zito’s several visits to Balboa Naval Hospital.

“Twelve Marines just came back who had literally been blown apart,” Williams said to the crowd when everyone had settled at their tables for dinner. “Barry went from room to room, talked to them and listened to them and looked them in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to be OK.’ He spent 45 minutes with one kid who had lost an arm and a leg and was just devastated. Barry somehow had him laughing.”

He turned to Zito, standing behind him.

“You were raised right, man,” he said. “You were raised right.”

Zito asked each of the Marines to stand and introduce himself. One by one they gave their names, some too emotional to say anything more.

“This reminds us of why we did what we did,” one Marine said in a cracked voice. “It shows all of the Marines that America really cares about them.”

Toward the end of the evening, after Zito thanked his teammates and friends for coming and thanked the Marines for their sacrifice, one soft-spoken Marine with a cane tapped Zito on the shoulder.

“The most important thing you’ve done is to listen to us,” he said. “You make us feel that what we did mattered.”

Barry Zito and Troops 3.7.09 by Richard Williams.JPG

Barry Zito and Marines from the WWB.JPG

Barry Zito, Brian Wilson and Marine 3.7.09 by Richard Williams.JPG

 

7 Comments

Love the cool pics!

~King of Cali
http://kingofcali.mlblogs.com/

Oh lord – that brought tears to my eyes! I’ve read about Zito’s work. God bless him and all the Marines.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Simply… OUTSTANDING !!!!!

I am a fan from your rival team, the Dodgers, but that is a wonderful human interest story that definitely binds just the love of baseball and what people are willing to do for others. Just Fabulous!!!

Debbie ~

Bary, may you go down as the all time Best of the Humanitarians on the Planet.!.
You are simply a loving and courageous human being…
Bless your wonderful efforts.

We are compelled to share with you our experiences at a moving event hosted by Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants and his foundation “Strikeouts For Troops”. Barry hosted 20 wounded marines to an exceptional weekend of enjoying the American past-time– baseball–in Arizona. These brave soldiers were flown in by Barry, provided hotel stays, were pre-game field guests and attended three Major League pre-season baseball games i which they were honored by the crowds and at the White Sox/Dodgers game, they received two heart-warming standing ovations. Some 70 people attended a special dinner Barry hosted for the soldiers, and it was attended by several of Barry’s Giant’s team mates and other Major League baseball players that re members of the “Strikeouts For Troops” roster. It was truly a moving event. As the night unfolded, it was abundantly clear the heartfelt love, respect and emotion that enveloped the evening. Anyone that was privileged enough to attend could not help but be in awe of these brave solders for their sacrifices, as well as the loving, humanitarian, heart-felt gesture put forth by Mr. Zito in hosting a “dream weekend” as often expressed to us by several soldiers. During the dinner, each soldier stood to introduce themselves and relate their feelings and experiences that brought them there. A common thread heard around the room as each spoke, was their amazement and gratitude to have been given a joyous life memory granted to them through the generosity of a Major League pitcher, who sees their plight, and has risen to the occasion to extend a generous helping hand to give back for what so many have done for us all as Americans.

I am proud of two things: The amazing courage of those who have sacrificed so much for us all, and the incredible generosity of time, funding and true humanitarianism to make a weekend like this possible for these solders. My husband spent four years as a Navy Corpsman, working in a surgical intensive care unit. I saw the respect in his eyes as we had the pleasure of meeting many of the guests at the dinner It truly touched our hearts.

If you know Barry Zito, you already know that his heart is bigger than life, his respect immeasurable, and his humility always present. His leadership role in gathering his fellow MLB players to join in is amazing. If you haven’t had the pleasure of knowing him, you should know that you have a stellar example of true humanitarianism that is embodied in a guy that you can root for on and off the field!

Judy and John Day

I was fortunate to accompany Rich Williams and the 17 wounded Marines to Scottsdale for spring training…It’s funny…I was thinking when I was a little kid in the ’60′s all I wanted to do was be a pro baseball player…when I graduated high school in the late ’70′s. I just wanted to be a Marine…so now I’m in my late 40′s and I get to take a bunch of my wounded younger “Brothers” to a few baseball games where the Players, like Barry Zito, took us to dinner and made a point of making these young Marines feel like they are “The MVP’s”.

It was truely a great night.
Barry Zito is a First Class guy.
Thanks to him, the Giants organization and all the other players that were there that night.
Semper Fi,
Jim Phillips, San Diego

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