Sunday, May 18, 2008

Retired Baseball Players Visit Troops in Afghanistan

Jeff Nelson, a former New York Yankees relief pitcher, signs a baseball for a fan at a Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored event at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, May 11, 2008. The Heroes of the Diamond Tour brought four retired Major League Baseball players to visit with deployed servicemembers. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica R. Dahlberg

The Heroes of the Diamond Tour brought four retired Major League Baseball players to visit servicemembers here May 11.

The Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored event featured Tim Salmon, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim right fielder; Dean Palmer, Detroit Tigers third baseman; Mike Remlinger, Atlanta Braves relief pitcher; and Jeff Nelson, New York Yankees relief pitcher.

"We were glad that these players came, because a few were fresh out of the league," said Brian P. Lee, director and tour manager.

Lee said he sought players that servicemembers could recognize. For one soldier, Lee's pick in ball players was right on the money.

"I have been watching Tim Salmon since I was a kid," Army Sgt. Jeff M. Lucenti said. "This is the first person I have been excited to see, and it means a lot because I was at the last game he played in."

Lucenti said he was honored to meet one of his childhood heroes. Others shared the sentiment, as well.

"We really appreciate the players coming out and sharing with us," said Air Force Lt. Col. Rob Rocco. "Today is Mother's Day, and yet they sacrifice time to be here with us."

The major leaguers said the feelings were reciprocal.

"We wanted to come and show how much we support you," Remlinger said. "Being here with these soldiers and listening to their stories makes me realize how real this war is."

Palmer agreed and said that being able to talk with the servicemembers and listening to the things they have experienced has been one of the best experiences of his life.

The players autographed photos, papers and other memorabilia members brought in.

Some, like Rocco, plan on sending their new "treasures" home.

"What is more American than baseball?" asked Rocco, who added that he was very excited about sending his daughter a baseball that all the "heroes" signed. "This event was great."

A newly arrived airman also shared his reaction to the event.

"I haven't been here 24 hours," said Air Force Capt. Andres Munera. "This really is a huge morale builder for me, since this is a fresh beginning for me, and my son is going to love this ball they all signed."

By Army Pvt. Tamara Gabbard
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Pvt. Tamara Gabbard is assigned to 382nd Public Affairs Detachment.

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