FORT MYERS – On the field was a US Military All-Star team that included a two-time Purple Heart recipient and a former Green Beret shortstop; men brave beyond description who had served two or three tours of duty in Iraq.
There were soldiers and officers who have risked their lives; and oh yes, in the middle of it all was a leadoff hitter who once won the Heisman Trophy.
The collection of Red Sox minor leaguers, which included highly touted third base prospect Michael Almanzar and DH/first baseman Lars Anderson, won the game, 4-0, but on this morning the real winners were dressed in camouflage uniforms enjoying a diversion from war as part of the “Red, White And Blue” Tour.
The team, which was put together by former Sox general manager Dan Duquette, was a collection of the best military players in the country. They were once top players in high school and college before they gave it all up for a higher calling.
“It’s amazing to be a part of this,” said Doug Flutie, who played second base for the military team. “We were talking together as a group last night and it was amazing to hear the stories and it was amazing to me how interested they were in what I was doing. I’ll tell you, you’re humbled being around them. These are real-life heroes and I know how excited they were to be able to compete in a sports setting like this. I’m just happy to be able to help out.”
Lt. (jg) Will Seehan of Arlington, Ma., who spent six months in Baghdad with special forces, was a Division 1 baseball player for the Naval Academy. He wore No. 7. And like all of his military teammates, the uniforms contained a military saying, name or phrase. His was “Pearl Harbor.”
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to get on a ball field again and compete as a ballplayer,” said Sheehan. “This is so much fun and a great way for all of us to get away from what we do and enjoy this. This is a dream for a lot of guys, so I think everyone wants to go out there and represent the military in a positive way.”
Sheehan said, in his opinion, “Iraq is a success. It’s been an amazing experience. The people there always have a smile in their face. They’ve been nothing but kind to us. They’ve welcomed us with open arms. We’re doing good stuff. There’s trade, we’ve opened the markets.”
Jeff Heriot, a 27-year-old outfielder from Northeastern University by way of Franklin, went 2 for 3 and laced the US team’s first base hit, a hard-hit hit ball to right field against Sox starter Caleb Clay in the second inning. The US team didn’t have much luck hitting, but it pitched and fielded very well. Flutie was the leadoff hitter and played second base and showed a (surprise) strong arm at second base.
Center fielder Ronnie Stahl’s cargo plan crash-landed in Norfolk, Va. on Thursday “and he was back with us on Friday,” said Daubach.
There was another player who flew in from Germany just to play in yesterday’s game and was being deployed to Baghdad tomorrow.
Marine Sgt. Isaac Rodriguez, who hails from Eagle Pass, Texas, played junior college and college baseball at Texas A&M-Kingsville and has made two tours of Iraq. He’s won two Purple Hearts; his body is full of metal fragments and he’s suffered concussions and perforated eardrums from exploding land mines.
“We’re living the dream playing baseball,” said Rodriguez, 31. “Everybody’s got the right attitude. Everybody’s pumped up. The great thing is nothing fazes these guys. They’ve been through a lot.”
Several members of the Red Sox front office and coaching staff — Theo Epstein, Terry Francona, John Farrell, Brad Mills, farm director Mike Hazen, and others watched from behind the backstop. Daubach would occasionally bring some of the players over to meet Francona and Epstein. Established players like Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz wandered over to meet the players.
The Military All-Stars have two teams that will also be playing in Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela.