THE 2016 “RED, WHITE, & BLUE TOUR”
After so many months of planning and securing sponsors, booking games and recruiting players it was the moment we were all waiting for. “It’s hard to believe that it was time for the All-Stars to hit the road again, a full year has gone by way too fast” said Tank Stone, the VP of Development for the U.S. Military All-Stars.
While documenting the Tour across a big portion of the United States this year, you may be surprised to find out that behind the scenes, the USMA is a family run show. The All-Stars do not have a full time staff until the season starts. Then they add the coaching staff and a few Interns. This Not-For-Profit 501C3 understands the stakes involved and of course a Board of Directors to be accountable too for all that they do.
“Honoring Veterans around the Country is their primary goal.” Tank states that his family including his wife and son have invested their own time and money for the All-Stars Tours every year during the 5 years since his family had the torch handed to them. His wife secured the vans this year to transport the players. Not at a discount, but the entire transaction was a donation! His son does most of the artwork design, printing and application of all graphics, helps with the uniforms, equipment and sales merchandise at the front end of the season before many of the sponsors are even involved.
OUR SPONSORS ARE OUR PARTNERS
Without National and Regional sponsors, it is difficult for the set-up of their traveling Tour. The US Military All-Stars 501C3 was set up so larger corporate sponsors can give back to the Veteran communities, with a legitimate tax deduction.
TRUE LEADERSHIP ALWAYS STARTS FROM THE TOP
The backbone of this year’s team is their Head Coach Bodacious (Bodie) Ball. Bodie was a player last season, pitching for the All-Stars in the Northwest 2015 Tour. Because the management saw his leadership skills last year, they struck an agreement for his return this season to be their Head Coach. The coach arrived at the All-Stars Corporate Headquarters all the way from Colorado to have his truck wrapped with the team’s logo by one of their sponsors “ The Wrap Partner”. This was one of four vehicles driving in a 5 vehicle fleet this year.
On his way to Nashville TN. during his 23-hour drive, the coach had a tire blow out. It was a brand new set of tires! This was before we even started the tour barnstorming from city-to-city across the country with this traveling Baseball team. On the coaches’ arrival, he and Tank load up the trucks and the trailer with enough of everything for 10 weeks, including spare tires for the trailer! They have lost tires every year! “Even our 45ft. RV in 2013 along with the trailer that year, both had blowouts” stated MJ., V.P. of Marketing.
The All-Stars started their journey to Hinesville GA., FT. Stewart area for the teams two weeks of training. This was an 8-9 hour ride for the Military/Baseball convoy. One of the Interns, Walt Reeves, from Belmont College in Nashville TN. and a player, John Human, Navy Reservist from Knoxville TN., helped to drive the two vans that complete the teams parade of wrapped Patriotic Vehicles. What a sight that was!
They arrived two days early to set up the facility and to plan the pick-up of the men from the airport over the next two days in Savannah GA. 30-45 min away, using their two, 15-seater vans provided by Merchants Fleet Leasing.
The training this season took place at Faith Baptist Christian Academy, which is located in Ludowici, GA. The Academy had players from 14 countries and their goal as always was to help the young athletes achieve the next level whether that is college or MLB. They have had some success over the years as numerous guys are in college or playing for MLB. Greg Hughes, the coach says, “We were more than excited to host the US Military All-Stars at our dorm in Hinesville GA.
The All-Stars stayed with us for a couple weeks, trained and mingled with our guys in many different settings. Pastor Gene Reynolds is the head of our program and has a huge heart for the Military. Head coach Gene Reynolds JR. and his assistant, Gary Cates also believe in the Academies mission to help guys improve their skills, spiritually, academically and athletically. When you add the All-Stars to this equation, the experience the players had was tremendous!”
FBCA Crusaders and the All-Stars hung out in dorms together, trained together, worshipped and prayed together. The church invited them to a dinner after services and assisted in feeding the team during their stay. The restaurants that assisted in feeding the team took pride in being involved and enjoyed their part of this experience. The All-Stars always want to ingrain themselves in the communities they visit, Hughes continued. “They always will visit Hospitals, Veteran homes, local community events etc.… It is incredible to hear some of the stories of these young Heroes, who sacrifice and give us the freedoms to do what we do.
We all thank them for their sacrifice! We can all sleep better at night knowing these young men are watching out for us. We look forward to our continued relationship with Tank Stone the leader of this program and coach Bodacious Ball along with all of the All-Star players”. If you ever have the opportunity to be around this team on any level, Sponsoring, playing against or hosting the team, TAKE IT!!!
Most of the men arrived over a two-day span of time and Tank assisted Coach Bodie to start handing out the Uniforms, T-Shirts and equipment. Close to half of the original men who will complete the roster will join the team at designated towns along the Tour.
The All-Stars also had merchandise to sell at their tables and Tent, for each Game or Event. The Bats are provided by Cooperstown Bat Company. The custom Uniforms and team fitted caps are provided by Victory Custom Athletics. The Camo caps for the fans are provided by Pacific Headwear. The helmets and carrying cases are provided by Schutt Sports.
Meeting each of the other players for the first time is always interesting. Together achieving readiness for what the next 8 to 10 weeks had in store is our mission. “The U.S. Military All-Stars are a lot different than most traveling teams that have been together for a while, some even for years”, says the coach. These Active Duty Heroes travel from all over the World, and some gave up on their dream of playing professional baseball to serve their country.
The U.S. Military All-Stars and its 27 year old Brand, offers a select few the opportunity to be seen again by Independent and Pro Leagues. A past catcher, Jesse Jenner, son of our past coach, Rex Jenner, was picked up this year by the St. Louis Cardinals. Another player was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles a few years ago came back out to pitch with the All-Stars and was picked up by another team. Good luck Zach!! Another trying duty for the coach is keeping the roster up when some of the men can only stay for a few weeks, some only a couple of days.
The team will travel through parts of the country where past players live and the All-Stars will always invite past players to suit back up and visit as they pass through their areas. The team also encourages celebrities, or Ball players from local Military Bases or Veterans playing on local teams close by to ask them to come out and swing with the All-Stars.
The USMA team clicked together fast and got to know each other. It is amazing to experience first-hand how long lasting friendships form and how the team atmosphere becomes so solid…Joint Armed Forces Camaraderie at its best! As Coach Bodie & staff watch and evaluate, We can see them pull a few players from the ranks and move them to lead the Honor Squad.
PRE-GAME HONOR CEREMONY
The staff chooses new Honor squad personnel from the group for their Pre-Game Honor Ceremony, which is the US Military All-Stars Trademark at every event. The new squad must also possess the ability to teach their replacements, when the count down for their own personal departure date comes around. This season, the All-Stars carries a very special Flag for their Honor ceremonies. It was given as a gift during their 25th Anniversary Tour in the North West.
This very special, historic Old Glory was flown on Saipan Island during World War II in 1944. 27 men were lost trying to secure the island to rebuild the air strips destroyed during the past battle with the Japanese. Seabee, Dean Jacobson of Washington State, while being Honored at his Grandsons High School in 2015, donated it to the All-Stars.
“Watching this new team train and workout together, the players seem to look younger each year. I’m sure it has nothing to do with me hitting 60 soon”, says Tank. “Watching the staff finding the appropriate men to become the Honor Squad that will perform in front of thousands over the next couple of months, was priceless to see!”
Although all of these Heroes are qualified to be in the Honor Squad, some have other duties, or will not be with the team for long. This is the beginning of what the All-Stars stand for, what they do in each community when traveling across America during their summer “Red, White & Blue Tour.” The All-Stars lead with Honor, through the venue of Baseball!! Every member of this team Honor all men and women who have ever worn a uniform in defense of our freedom. As we were watching the actual practicing of the All-Stars for the upcoming games, they decided to challenge a local team to a game. This team was in town just long enough to play a quick game before heading back to their South American countries. The coach said,”This may be a great way early in the training to see how the new team will be in a real game.”
The All-Stars usually split their team in two and play a scrimmage game during their training weeks, but it seems as though the local Sports Academy invited them to use their fields and facility are conducting their graduation that Tank heard of while attending a local Church service. Apparently they are pool of young talent, some VERY GOOD. The All-Stars did set up that scrimmage game.
The All-Stars take every practice or game as serious as the next, and it shows. After the practice game the coach saw a few areas to work on before the approaching scheduled games in NC. The All-Stars started working on those areas of concern, and then prepared for their departure from GA.
One other mention before the team leaves GA., sometimes bad things can happen when traveling and one of those extreme actions will affect a few of the team in Hinesville GA. Tank, was paying for the fuel at the pumps while one of the men bought a drink inside, they both were hacked. Yes, cyber thieves hit their Air Force player Andrew Leonard’s card for $8,000.00 and Tank $300.00. Thank God for the fraud alert company that called Tank. This led to him telling all players to check and to periodically check their accounts as they travel. Coach Ball, would become the next victim, his card was hit in another town. This closed his account down for a week or more! That’s OK, The All-Stars had him covered.
Traveling through SC to get to our Memorial Day game in Forest City, NC! Tanks truck which was being driven by Lesean Thomas Air Force player from Japan & Andrew Leonard Air Force from Iowa, suffered a blow out. This is the teams 2nd tire incident this season.
After replacing the tire we continued on and we noticed the highway we traveled on was named, The Purple Heart Memorial Highway. It is the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, (the team will be playing the Forest City Owls on Memorial Day), the Flag on the interstate was at half-mast. This will make a very special first picture for the year under a State sign. The All-Stars always stop and take a photo of the team at each State sign they cross. How appropriate that the first shot of the season would have so many military references.
The local American Legion stepped up to assist the All-Stars and invited the team to multiple events and to MANY meals while they stayed in Hinesville GA. close to FT. Stewart. A 42 year Army Chef known as the Italian Stallion, Frank the cook, rocked the All-Stars world with his cooking, there will be so many more experiences shared of the teams’ world being rocked when speaking of food this season, later in the story. This was special though, it was the first time this season in an exceptionally great year, FOR FOOD! Frank and his friends at American Legion Post # 168prepared several special dinners, and many breakfasts.
Originally a few of the Legion men saw the All-Stars running every morning during their 4-6 mile exercise run past their Post and invited them in for a meet and greet one night. This led to a wonderful relationship that would last during their entire stay. The All-Stars sent a special plaque to Frank and the post. Frank is shown here with Capt. Murray, one of the All-Stars National Guard first base players. Whether the picture with a Veteran or a child, look at Captain Murray getting into it, it’s priceless!! The one consistent fact we saw during this trip with the All-Stars, is these active duty heroes all enjoyed Honoring Veterans and working with the youth in every town they visited.
Rain did seem to be another strong challenge the All-Stars would face this season. At this point, it was only a few days of practice that the rain affected, but now it’s hovering over the few games in the Carolinas. Sure enough, Kannapolis GM, Jim Klepper or his Board of Directors, is considering canceling the game the coach says. They have moved their Charlotte Crushers teams game to Kannapolis, 40 miles away and the rain can really affect those that would have to drive. Right down to the start of the game, it was dangerous looking in the sky and it actually did start raining around the 6th inning. The crowds were very light and now thinning even more. Although the All-Stars were very proud to be playing at a Chicago White Sox Affiliate park, Intimidator Stadium it made the event hard for the local teams management to recoup the expense of renting such a big Stadium for the All-Stars visit. It will not be the last of the rain stories this season. A total of 6 games were canceled in 3 states, 4 due to rain. 3 of the 4 canceled rain games were re-scheduled and played.
Our first scheduled game in 2016 was with The Forest City Owl. They are a collegiate summer baseball team and members of the Coastal Plain League. The All-Stars have played many teams over the years in the Coastal Plain League! The Owls are made up of collegiate players from around the nation. The Owls play their home games at McNair Field, a baseball stadium constructed near downtown Forest City by the municipal government utilizing town funds, private contributions and more than a million dollars in donations from Robert C. McNair, a Forest City native and owner of the NFL Houston Texans. In 2009 & 2010 the Owls were back to back Petitt Cup Champions, the Coastal Plain League Title. There are a number of ex-Owls playing in MLB. Currently, the owners of the Owls are Phil & Becky Dangel from Knoxville TN. The Owls Stated to Tank during their visit and later in writing, “for a future game in 2017, we would love to have the All-Stars back next year and so would our fans”!
The upcoming Forest City Owls game is very special to the All-Stars, this is where one of the All-Stars past pitchers, Marshall Rogne, Army & now Purple Heart recipient after fighting in Afghanistan, proposed in 2012 to his wife Kerrie at McNair stadium. Marshall lives in IA. and will rejoin the team this season during the Mid-West leg of the tour.
This is also the same stadium where another 2012 player was picked up by the Orioles for his GREAT knuckleball, Zach Staniewicz, Air Force. He is visiting the team for a few games this season before he leaves for his newest assignment. Yes, he pitched at the game that night, while his mom looked on with the pride of a loving mother, Memories!!!!! The All-Stars also visited local Veterans while in Forest City, at Rutherford Regional Hospital and the reception was fantastic! (See pic of administrator and men in front of facility and trucks).
The team was headed to their scheduled game at Winthrop College in Rock Hill S.C., but it was canceled at the last minute due to issues with the field, according to Joe Hudak, GM & FCA member who booked the game, what to do now? Tank and Bodie, discussed that the All-Stars did not have to be in Florida for a few days and since it is a bear to change all the arrangements at the last minute, they reached out to Coach Hughes in Hinesville, GA. Prayers are answered once again!
Pastor Gene Reynolds & Coach Greg Hughes involved with assisting the team for their training in Hinesville Ga. at Faith Baptist Sports Academy, invited them back! For those few days the All-Stars helped them close down their facility and the All-Stars even squeezed in a few practices over the following days. All of the Academies students and players were gone and the facility was empty, except for the All-Stars.
Just a half an hour away in Savannah is one of their sponsors Nine Line Apparel. Since we had T-shirts to pickup (originally they were to be shipped) they decided to join them for their 5th Annual 5K run that they do for charity. They gifted & dressed the men up in special red shirts, for quick entry and to allow the All-Stars to assist them with the crowds.
The team all with smiles on their faces, assisted for hours before hitting the road to go to a special dinner that one of the players, 1st Baseman Cody Stack, Army from FT. Hood helped to set up. Dinner at Paula Dean’s restaurant in Savannah GA. MMM MMM good eating!! With full bellies and yes another food story, it was time to head back to the facility, it was late and although stuffed, the All-Stars must start their trip to FL. Their BIG D-Day Game on June 6th, at the new Cocoa Expo, a 60 million dollar newly renovated facility.
The team made it to the Cocoa Expo, WOW!!! What a beautiful facility, it had all new marble countertops, tile floors, 10,000 pieces of workout equipment. The largest eating area any of us had ever seen! They had arcade game rooms, laundry facility and not to mention 7 separate fields and one very large 5000 seat stadium. Cocoa Expo also had Indoor batting cages. The men were treated like royalty; the chef on duty reviews the next several days menu and times to serve us.
Except for the same darn rain and the threat of Tropical Storm Colin, Cocoa’s Chef, along with the Security staff and the great Veteran maintenance crew assisted the men in having the best experience ever. Tank had been working with many Groups and local Veteran owned business for months to have a great turnout for the D-Day Game. An Estimated 2500 fans, Veterans, families of a lot of the players and staff were set to attend. Then the other shoe hits the floor, so they say when bad news comes your way.
Tropical Storm Colin was a definite, so the All-Stars had to cancel the game on June 6th at 6:00PM. Tank Stone went on TV and told the fans to be careful and not to come. Since Tank’s mother lived close to Cape Canaveral, he was very familiar with the dangers of Florida storms and it truly was a serious storm! It was an entire week before that game could be rescheduled for an open rain date. After months of plans, with only a few days to change to that new date, it turned out to be not enough time, a lower count of fans showed up! Most of the fans are Veteran Group Leaders apologizing for their groups and families being busy on this newly set date.
There were families that traveled to see a few of the players and Tank. This was a very important, game and it took many months to plan Tank Stone said. “We were even set to give a couple more homes away to Wounded Warrior Families through the Space Coast Paratroopers and Homes for Heroes organizations. One of the homes was to be given to the first Single Veteran Mother ever. The All-Stars had just attended an event that gave two homes away a few weeks before, while the men were still practicing in GA.”(show home give away pics) “I drove16 hours round trip to attend and conduct MANY Media events, driving folks to both the home give away event and the big game on D-Day. Oh well, what can you do, Tank commented.
The All-Stars also had that very big D-Day game scheduled with one of their new Sponsors, Marucci Sports, Tank said. “Marucci provided the Shirts with “Honor the game” on the front, along with their Marucci new hat design, only worn by a couple of MLB at this time.”. Also, banners and equipment for the opposing team, named after them. The Marucci Sluggers VS the US Military All-Stars, with the rain, it’s not really the way for impressing a new sponsor. The All-Stars did mention them at every game across the remaining 10 states of the tour.
This sparked a negative storm of events that had the All-Stars caught up in the stadiums local licensing issues. Apparently the owners of the Expo facility were counting on the D-Day Event to bring in fans paying at the gate and eating concession food. Along with parking fees, this would have assisted them in making another payment that due to Cocoas licensing issues, they were behind on. Also, this would assist them in covering the cost of the All-Stars visit, but Cocoa Expo was not able to follow through with any of it. The All-Stars were informed that their food would stop and the air conditioning would need to be shut off! The team could not stay in the dormitories without proper licensing or air conditioning, even though Cocoa would still let them use the field. Even the scoreboard and lights could not be turned on due to these same licensing issues.
The All-Stars only had day games scheduled at Cocoa Expo besides the D-Day game, which the game would be over before lights were needed anyway. Tank went to many of the same Veteran Groups he had been working with for months putting this Honor event together asking for contacts and assistance so the men could eat all meals planned and would stay in air controlled facilities. Prayers were answered!!!
The county of Brevard really showed their true colors. Hotels, Restaurants’, even a field, along with Veteran Umpires from ASO, Association of Sports Officials, Scooter Morrison, all at no charge!!. A husband and wife from the local Brevard Co. Moose Lodge #2073, Steve & Debbie Bodie along with the Umpires brought Gatorade, water and ice to hydrate the players. Families made lunches and one of the umpires, Rob and his wife, Bonita Holmes made a 32lb Turkey with all the fixings for the entire team, at their home! An unbelievable gesture on Father’s day and it was delicious too!
15 other restaurants’ also stepped up and offered food for any & all open meals in FL that the team would need help with. Coach Bodie and the men stated, they never expected so much hospitality & great food, even mid-day food. See the special thank you printed on the All-Stars website, at the bottom of their sponsor page, A special thanks to Life Pointe Ministries, FOR EVERYTHING!!
The All-Stars had games booked in Central FL on Fridays and Saturdays to appear at opposing team’s stadiums, they would only play scrimmage games during the week at Cocoa’s field. Cocoa was to provide balls as all opposing teams do. Since the All-Stars changed locations to a State Park in the middle of their visit with many of Rob Sitz teams, the game balls were not provided. President Rob Sitz of Mid Florida Collegiate League made a decision to assist the All-Stars. Game balls would be the responsibility of both teams. We alternated who would bring the game balls. This really helped the All-Stars from doing it all. Thanks Rob.
A good friend of Scooter Morrison with the ASO umpire Association, Giles Malone, past owner of Cocoa Expo, secured fields with Brevard County. He assisted with finding a hotel with food for breakfasts during their stay. Thank you Giles, from Tank and the entire All-Stars Team!! The wonderful video Scott Davis, the GM put together of this visit was now complete. Although the stands were not packed for that days game and it rained most days that week, Scott still filmed a great video showing the All-Stars “Heroes of the Diamond” practicing with many of their sponsors equipment and product, stated Tank.
Scott Davis had the opportunity to film the All-Stars youth clinic with P.A.L., the Police Athletic League in Winter Garden FL. This can be viewed on the US Military All-Stars website under media, then videos. Both of Scott’s new videos are seen at the top of the video page and labeled appropriately.
As mentioned earlier about the positive and friendly relationship the All-Stars had with the staff and groundskeepers of Cocoa Expo, before departing for the Midwest leg of the tour, Cocoa’s staff filled the fuel tanks for the entire All-Stars fleet of vehicles!! Rick the head of security, a Veteran Marine himself, really got what the All-Stars were all about, GM Scott Davis stated.
The Middle Florida Collegiate League invited the All-Stars to the Orlando, Cocoa area. Rob Sitz President of the League says, “The All-Stars will go on to play 6 of our League teams and 9 other games with our Futures League”. “This will be the first time the All-Stars ever stayed in one area for over 2 weeks.” Tank stated, “We knew that the fans would attend the weekend games in different towns, but we were unclear of the attendance during the week playing every day in the same stadium”. So, we considered the weekday games as more scrimmage practice games, against great players!! The players from the Futures League are top players and will be picked up by other summer collegiate teams around the country, in the very near future.
Here is a re-cap of 4 teams from over the dozen different games played against the Mid Florida Collegiate League:
The All-Stars played to a packed stadium. This was the home of one of the All-Stars players that played with these local leagues and school teams while growing up. Cody Stack came back to play, but now he is in the Army, stationed at FT. Hood TX. Cody will soon be transferring to Germany just days after the tour was finished. He is now an All*Star swinging against his old friends, teams and coaches. The media went wild and so did the audience!
During the early part of that game, the Coach and Tank meet a WW II Veteran they honored last year in Washington State during the All-Stars North West, 25th Anniversary Tour in 2015. He and his wife now live in Leesburg FL. Tank said, “She still had my business card in her purse”. After a couple of big hugs, they were all back to watching the game, a Veteran family & friends for life.
- Sanford River Rats, the first date was a rain out; the storm was almost as bad as the tropical storm the week before, Florida weather at its worst. It seemed to have followed us! The rain date, although not a sellout, still was a good turnout.
- Deland Suns, another great turnout and game for the All-Stars Florida part of the Red, White & Blue Tour.
- Winter Garden, as with all the other games in Florida, this too went well! As I mentioned earlier, the All-Stars did conduct a Children’s Fielding clinic where Scott Davis, made another video of the team, this time interacting with the Children & P.A.L. the Police Athletic League. See videos on their website. You may also see videos Scott has filmed over the past several years with the All-Stars at the bottom of available videos to view on that page.
It was the week days while playing the 9 games on Merritt Islands, Mitchell Ellington Field, donated by Brevard County, which saw a few more rainy afternoon cancellations. While visiting Middle Florida the Orlando shooting tragedy happened. The visiting All-Stars, are seen here, showing their support towards the Orlando Pulse nightclub victims and families.
With that tragedy and the weather, the All-Stars picked a tough time to visit Florida this year. The team traditionally will only stay in a town for 1 or 2 days. A true tradition they will stick to, barnstorming across the country during their Summer Red, White & Blue Tours. “No more hovering in an area for that long”. Tank stated. We did have the opportunity to join in on a very important Fundraiser for the family of the three slain girls, killed by their mother in the Palm Bay area. The American Legion, Post# 115 hosted this event. They had a local DJ putting on the show to raise funds and awareness and Tank, a past DJ himself, took a photo with Florida’s own, Doc Holiday. All of the players participated in fundraising games and eating lunch that day. God bless the American Legion for the many times and places across the country where they fed and honored the All-Stars!
This was the end of their first leg of the US Military All-Stars 26th Annual Red, White & Blue Tour! The team was now off for their second leg of the tour, which was across the Mid-West and 7 more states. The drive is exceptionally long, but the Board of Directors wanting Tank to meet a new League owner who was opening up 5-6 new teams in 3 states. They also are to meet a few new sponsors that are located in the Midwest.
So off they went to drive a 2 day, 25 hour ride. Half way happens to be where Tank the V.P. and Scott the G.M. lives. So they set up a Hotel for the men to stay north of Nashville, while the two of them surprise their families with a quick overnight stay. That’s correct; they sleep in their own beds after being on the road for 5 weeks, halfway through the 10 week tour. Tank and Scott left the Sanford River Rats game around 10:30PM and drove all night to have an additional day at home, while the team traveled the next day to them. It was hard to imagine, we were already halfway through the tour, Scott said. The Midwest leg of the tour should have very large turnouts after several years of not visiting that area. “Scott had not been there since the 2012 Tour and it was 2013 since the All-Stars had played at a few of these scheduled games.” Stated Tank.
The next surprise now will be that another few men will have to leave. Their time was up and they had to make it back to their commands or new duty stations. Although coach Bodie had replacements coming in daily at times, the coach stated that it is always so bittersweet to get to know new players and make friends only to eventually say goodbye to those new friends, while wondering will the next few players be as good, or will they be able to hold their own. Boy, “they all sure did”, Tank shouted!!! Except for losing another first base player, which they both of course took their gloves with them! That’s right, no first base glove for their 2 utility players to use, one being the Coach himself. A brand new issue, should the team buy one for the remaining games or call ahead to see if they could borrow one. Tank chose to try to borrow one and made the calls to each of the upcoming coaches.
That led another group in Albert Lea MN. to actually gift them with a new glove. It was bought By the American Legion and given to the coach at a meet and greet dinner for the team & town at the local American Legion, Post 56 that night, (more food) One of the warmest, event packed receptions of this year’s tour. We will get back to MN. later in our story.
The team arrived in Spooner WI. The team was to meet this new League owner. The new owner had cut a field out of his parent’s corn field and had dedicated it to his son, who was killed by a drunken driver a few years before. (See picture of field sign) #40 He wanted to bring the US Military All-Stars Honor Ceremony to his home town along with the other 3 towns he booked games at. This stop was not originally planned! The All-Stars had a game booked in Sioux Falls SD. That team was sold during the early part of the season and the new owners said they were unaware of this planned event and asked to cancel for this year. A quick call to the new owner from Tank explaining about now having an opening to play that very special game at his family’s private field was available.
They would book another game for free and within 3 days. The new owner made arrangements for the team to stay at Jay Link, son of Jack, at Jack Links Beef Jerky Company, at his private 1200 acre lake & resort with cabins. The whole team stayed for 3 days!! Fishing, relaxing and enjoying a much deserved rest after a very long ride. I recall the hospitality starting upon our very late arrival, it was close to midnight. The owner of 4 teams in IA, MN, & WI shows up with his famous ribs and his mother’s pasta salad. Late or not, the team devoured all the food, cleaned the pots and containers and returned them to his parents before that game in their backyard corn field in Spooner Wi.
It turned out to be a much needed break and Tank got to meet the son, Jay Link. The team rests and will start getting prepared for the game. The team always likes to, when visiting a town, prepare to stop at a few of the towns Senior Citizen Centers & Va. Hospitals. They also try to conduct kids’ clinics, so off they went and were able to accomplish it all. Over 100 kids came to the clinic that day!
The hospitality continues in Spooner when the cook at the local VFW, or a darn nice volunteer that SHOULD be a cook, Sarge, invites the All-Stars twice for great food and good company. At the Post, it was a meet and greet with the other Veteran family’s attending the cookout. He enjoys hearing of Tanks name and asked Tank to stand by the sign close to his grill, Tank Crossing! Next, Sarge has a real Tank in the front of the VFW Post #10568! The All-Stars lineup in front of the Tank for a group shot with everyone smiling large along with Sarge. Then the big invite to his beautiful home at the tip of the peninsula on the lake. Sarge showed Tank and a few of the All-Stars his corner of Honor. “Sarge is a very proud, 3rd generation Hero sharing his stories of his Grandfather and dad with our own Heroes of the Diamond.” Tank Stated. The cooking of Sarge and food was great, his family was so kind, the All-Stars enjoyed themselves well into the evening. They gathered around the flag pole, looking up at Old Glory while Sarge gave a wonderful, heartfelt prayer specifically for Veterans. A memory for a lifetime, bragging rights for all that were blessed to attend. This will be the first of four great games coming up with the new League.
All games will end up being to almost full stadiums, with the entire town’s folk, media and Veterans very excited. Some folks even calling the corporate office stating how excited their communities were. Tank says he knew this because they called from the media, business’, the American Legion Post, one of the calls was from The owners Aunt excited to share how the feelings were towards the All-Stars visits for his first time having the team in his area and hometown. Tank stated that it is the leaders like this that shows these Heroes of the Diamond a great time. He acted excited and put forth so much effort for our Heroes, his towns and his teams and all Veterans.
The coach added, the towns we visited and the All-Stars cannot wait until our next visit with such a strong Baseball, Military/Veteran area that cares and really gets what the All-Stars are all about. They are the type of community to always try to make it a great and better event each time for all Veterans! I hope we can return to this fine part of the country, states coach Bodacious Ball!! There were such historic stadiums, for an example, one that use to be German POW camp. We attended museums with the town folk educating the team with all of their history.
The All-Stars left the next day and went on to Bloomington IL. To play the Bobcats playing at IL State University, what a beautiful field, a hotel to dream of, along with a great breakfast! Mike Brown, the teams’ new owner set up one of the first police escorts in the Midwest into his town and that impressed one or more of the men. The All-Stars felt so honored!!
One of their players, Casey Bristow of VA., was transitioning out of the service and trying to leave the Military Police to become a civilian police officer. He enjoyed speaking with the local police telling them of his plans once he arrived home in VA. Casey’s uniform # 2 had the word Amendment, (Right to bear arms).
The team owner, Mike stated that next year he may want to book the fourth of July, but wanted for sure to take advantage of the media days that Tank has started using to increase awareness of the Red, White & Blue Tour event. Mike feels he will have hundreds of youth to attend the clinics!” The kids will really benefit from getting to play and learn alongside these young soldiers”, stated Mike. This is another man that sees the importance of the All-Stars community events.
The more successful events are usually the teams that allow their communities to stand behind all of us honoring their communities Veterans. Tank and Mike will revisit this during the All-Stars 27th Red, White & Blue Tour, next season.
We left for Whiting IN. to play against the Oilman. What an exciting visit which started on July 4th a day of remembrance for our Country, the All-Stars Independence Day game! There is a parade, known as the longest parade in IN.!! There were over 90,000 fans & families lining the streets. The owner of the Oilmen, Don Popravak had the men walk on the sides of the vehicles, saying hello up close and personal to all the fans. (Show pic of men walking) #50 Both teams were handing out Cards stating time of the game and musical guests that afternoon. They were helping to increase the games attendance. Another great event, which was almost a sellout!
On that very traditional Military date, Independence Day, the All-Stars won 4 to 3 in the last minutes of another neck in neck game in the Midwest! Tank, with enthusiasm said, “Thank you Oilmen for another fantastic visit to their home field. It really lifted the All-Stars spirits by winning on such a significant National Holiday. Reading the newspaper articles, it was quite a surprise to the local team and reporters, the late turn around win of the All-Stars! Thanks to new arrival Ryan Robb, Short Stop and a junior from the Air Force Academy in Colorado. He belted two doubles with 4 RBI’s, winning the game.”
Next we are to play the Springfield Sliders on one of four remaining fields like this in the world, known as a Turtle Back field in Springfield IL. This infield was almost two foot higher than the outfield. None of the men had ever seen a field like this. It almost looked like a skateboard hill you could ride down into the outfield, says Trevor Baldwin, Marine and one of the players from N.C. The team had the opportunity to practice for an hour or so to get use to this new type of field. At the time of print for this article, Trevor Baldwin had been deployed to Afghanistan. This is another truth, that players go from the Ballfield to the Battlefield, fighting for our freedom.
The fans started entering the stadium, the crowd size total was around 500, just shy a little of what the All-Stars had expected. “They all can’t be full every time.” Another player, Army medic Brian Merrigan stated. Brian is heading to his new duty station in Hawaii, at the end of the tour. This was another great game where the new GM really aimed to please the All-Stars. Todd Miller was very kind & accommodating, he included the All-Stars in a large bat raffle of his, along with a couple of the All-Stars custom made Red, White & Blue Bats.
The All-Stars Bat Sponsor this season was Cooperstown Bats of New York. They are just down the street from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Todd the GM/owner of the Sliders also did such a good job feeding the men after the game! The team seemed to have forgotten about Tank stranded out at the Merchandise tent located at the front gates of the stadium. He was left with no interns to assist with packing up the product, (their time was up and they earlier had returned to their colleges), so he could not leave for the crowds walking by as they left the stadium. It wasn’t until a few of the teams players and the coach said, “where’s Tank?“, the coach sent Casey Bristow and Zach Staniewicz, Pitcher. With Ryan Robb, Short stop from the Air Force Academy, also running to help pack up and allow Tank to grab some dinner. Tank said that Todd really did do a good job with dinner and DRINKS for the players that night and with the crowds leaving slowly, he stated that as the reason for any delays.
The staff learned and shared strong new lessons this season, to show all the teams and owners how the All-Stars can assist in packing the fans in by allowing them to conduct a Media day. Whiting IN. and six of the 10 games that did this, had the best results of the year!!
A media day, which Tank just started this season, “it is a true winning idea”, stated Tank. They meet the community first by phone, through conference calls, the towns Chamber of Commerce, City Officials,, all Media, and American Legion. The VFW, Team owners & coaches, even the sponsors of the events, are invited.
By bringing them into a conference call, meeting & introducing the All-Stars concept of, “It’s more than just Baseball”. The town can set up visits to VA Clinics, Veteran Homes, and their own Sponsors for the event, with visits to the sponsors work place or facilities. This will tie in the entire community to the event. It is not just a Baseball Game! When the All-Stars leave the next day, it will be the Home team, the Sponsors, along with the Media that honored their OWN Veterans and Military in their OWN community.
They reach out to the Vet owned business, the Veteran Groups, not just the VFW, Legion, but the Moose, Kiwanis, Elks and many more. The media will follow them to visit and Honor their OWN local Veteran Heroes. Tank Continued, “you should see how a WWII, 90 year old Veteran becomes 20 years old again while explaining his service time”. With their family watching their loved ones interacting with our visiting Heroes and then being saluted by these young men thanking them for paving the way for them!! It is priceless and it brings the families of these Veterans to the Pre-Game Honor Ceremony. A much bigger community event!!
One of the Veterans that was visited that day by one of the players, searched for his new friend Navy Seal Danny Vargas. This Vet searched for Danny at the game to get a picture to send to his Great Grandson, who would soon be attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis MD.
Danny told him, that he would like to become a trainer at the Naval Academy someday. This is the second season Danny has been able to swing and Pitch with the All-Stars. This year Danny assisted the coach and drove the big truck and trailer across the country. He also worked with the youth during our kids clinics, teaching them fielding exercises. He plans on joining the team again in 2017. Danny would be a great Assistant coach and was offered this, but his educational training will not be completed by next season’s time frame.
The All-Stars left for Bancroft, IA. Bandit country! The All-Stars stayed at a remodeled convent, The Sisters Inn, with its own chapel. Many of us felt it had the most comfortable beds any of us had ever slept on. Right next door was a beautiful Catholic Church. It had the most beautiful Stain Glass windows, statues and so much more. This is another town where one of our players’ families drove across country to see their son. The Savelli’s pulled up from their 18 hour drive from Martins Creek, PA. They met the team after Aaron’s mom jumped out and while hugging every one of the players. Aaron ended up staying with his family at another hotel for those couple of nights. “This will make the 7 to 8 families that joined the Red, White & Blue Tour on the road this season.” Tank stated. “Some of these Heroes are stationed across the pond and their families find it easier to drive to a few games across our country, rather than to fly around the world. Seeing these reunions are fantastic and something we want to continue!
With less than three hours until that night’s game; it had been a beautiful sunny day. The weather was turning bad and the players were saying they should have played early in the day. Tank said, that all the visits to museums, Veteran homes, not to mention the fans that would still be at work, that would have made it just about Baseball and the All-Stars are so much more than just Baseball!
The team was talking like that due to the oncoming storm and dark skies above. The sky did open up and sure enough, it poured for 20 min or more. Puddles everywhere, especially the infield! Tank and the team saw a look of determination set on the opposing teams owner. He got the sponges, rakes and we can’t forget, he found a squeegee and he moved the water away, which started the drying process. He had an ace up his sleeve, after it was all a little drier; he then uncovered a dry pile of soil to place over the still damp base lines. I watched the teams roll their pants up, take their cleats and socks off, as they assisted Him and his two team crew.
With just an hour delay, the town poured in, one by one. Walking, driving, even riding bikes to meet the All-Stars! The stadium filled up in less than an hour and they played ball to standing room only crowd. Not another drop of rain to be seen. The Honor ceremony went great!
What a town, what a team, what an event!! It takes a village like that to pull something off that we all were proud to see and live through, the coach continues, thank you Bancroft IA. and the Bandits, for one of the seasons memory of a lifetime.
The next day they visited Carroll, IA. This will be another town where one of our players, Andrew Leonard (Air Force) is from. His parents, wife and children all came to cheer him on and watch him play. Andrew thought he never again would have the opportunity to play here. His wife, Sophie sang the National Anthem. Reporters came out to interview Andrew. What a great homecoming for one of the Heroes of the Diamond. Close to 1000 fans showed up and the National Guard had one of their large rock walls set up for the kids to climb.
The All-Stars were set up over by the National Guard and The All-Stars had two local sponsors, Featherlite Trailers & New Way Ford from the Iowa area that showed their support of our visit to their area. The All-Stars were giving out their advertising handouts to the fans along with their beautiful Veterans magazine, provided by another long term sponsor, Veterans United. This town was prepared also and both Iowa towns had media and Veteran homes visited, along with meet and greets. Between Bancroft, IA and Carroll, IA we had between 700-900 fans attended each stadiums game.
Tank had been bitten twice by a bug, a horse fly that drew blood through his white sock on his right ankle area. His leg started turning a dark red and was swelling by the next morning. Army medic, Brian Merrigan, took a look at Tanks leg and asked, “Tank were you bitten by anything”? Tank recalled the night before he was. After this was all over Tank stated, “What a good call from our Medic”. We called ahead to Chillicothie, MO. Medical facility and they agreed to see Tank upon arrival that morning.
When he arrived they quickly said, “Due to Tank having his knees replaced over the past two years, infections are more dangerous to the new implants” so they sent him to the Regional Hospital. While this was going on, the team was to be greeted by the towns Police for an escort and then lunch with the Mayor.
While all of this was happening from the, “It’s More Than Just Baseball” Media day, Tank was hooked up to IV’s at the local emergency room. 4 hours later, the coach was called to pick up him up, when he then went to the hotel to rest until that nights game. Tank showed up to run the Merchandise tent that night to a standing room only crowd.
We left for one of the top 3 visits of the year!! Chillicothe MO. The All-Stars & Mudcats packed the stadium again it was barely standing room. There were some very special memories for the team to see a park that filled up on each and every visit over the years. The coach & Tank met a National Guard Reservist catcher, the players name was, Zach Douglas. Zach would join the All-Stars for their last 5 games. Tank was so pleased to finally meet their GM, Doug Doughty, after months of planning and a couple years of great appearances. Doug really seemed pleased with the repeat of his towns great turn out, as he had seen through the years. He knows exactly what the All-Stars are all about, Tank says.
The All-Stars had the privilege to visit a very beautiful Veterans home that Doug’s Veteran Father was at. This was also the home that one of the youngest players, Aaron Savelli, who just turned 21 while on the road, walked into rooms and spoke to these older Heroes. From a quiet, not so sure about this visit procedure to Older Veteran homes, now Savelli is leading the story telling and introductions, it’s priceless! That town understood how to Honor Veterans! They must have had a dozen or more at their ceremony that night. Thank you Doug and the Mudcat’s!!
Everyday the U.S. Military All-Stars had media interviews with Radio, Newspapers and even TV in some markets. It really makes a tremendous difference in putting more fans in the seats. Here is a photo of Tank and a player, with his dad, attending the 6:00 AM local Rock station along with the 2 morning show hosts.
St. Joseph MO. Home of The Mustangs was the next town to play and was always a Home Run packing the stadium every time! Even the past GM, who had moved across the country a couple of years earlier, had requested the All-Stars to be at his new teams’ stadium in 2017. Tank said, “The Mustangs and the All-Stars packed that stadium before with 3300 fans, just during their last visit alone! The Mustangs average game usually had over 2000 fans when advertising their games. The best in the country for attendance, according to the media,” commented Stone.
Although the fans at this game were one of the strongest group to inquire about the All-Stars past GM Karl, the fan count was smaller this year. Karl is fighting his long and hard battle with leukemia. Tank wrote to Karl and shared these visits from his friends and fans at that night’s Mustangs game. The All-Stars have lost a couple more players to the call of duty, but the revolving roster replies with a past pitcher, Joey Watros, Navy. He joins them for the teams last 5 games.
Joey just returned from an unplanned educational training exercise in Spain. This caused him not to be able to play for the entire month he planned on playing. He drove from his home in Detroit, to once again pitch and swing with the All-Stars. That night, another player rejoins the team, making a total of 3 past players from 2012 reuniting that evening. It is a good thing that a few new players joined up, we were getting very thin. Tank said, during their next game in MO. “The opposing team just happened to need a pitcher after one of their pitchers was injured.”
The All-Stars had enough players for that team to borrow a player, even as thin as they were! The old joke is “it only takes 9 to play”, well we came very close for the St. Joe game, but it all worked out. Tank said, “The ST. Joe game was neck and neck for 12 innings, we held our own even with the thinning team. Military Active Duty players can really wreak havoc on a traveling team’s roster sometimes.”
The All-Stars moved on to completing their third game in MO. at Hannibal, against the Caveman. One of the more exciting & fun games of the season. This was the event when the opposing team had that pitching injury and needed assistance to continue. So the All-Stars Short stop, Ryan Robb from the Air Force Academy took off his uniform Jersey and pitched for the Caveman, against his own, the All-Stars. (Show pic of Ryan) #64b, Tank states, “Thank goodness he only pitched that inning for them. Three up, three down, including striking out the coach, Oh yes he did!”
The reaction from the dugout was a delayed cheer, with a couple of quick looks to make sure the coach didn’t hear them. This was yet another priceless memory, which is large enough to be a very special memory for life. Tank and coach Bodie said, they would like to be a fly on the Air Force Academies wall when Ryan tells that part of his story and his time with the All-Stars to his Academy coach Mike Kazlausky and his fellow team mates.
The All-Stars next event had them visiting Albert Lea MN. It is another long ride, but the All-Stars were met at the State Line by the American Legion Bikers. “It was really cool to see these Veteran bikers meet our team, after such a long ride”. Chris Johnson, Marine, one of the players stated. They escorted the convoy of our patriotic wrapped vehicles to their city limits. Then the Police took over the escort, right to the American Legion Post 56, for a dinner and a meet and greet for the town to meet the players.
The Legion cooks asked what the All-Stars would like to eat. They said anything but Concession food or pulled pork. It is good food, but tough to eat day after day while on the road. To continue on with our food stories you won’t believe it, they fed us STEAK from their grill!! This also was when the Legion presented the first basemen’s mitt to coach Bodacious Ball.
The town folks proceeded to go over the plans to visit Veteran homes, nursing homes and to put on a children’s clinic the next day. Over 113 kids showed up at that clinic!! Of course, that many or more adults!! They, for the most part all returned to the game that evening, Tank stated. This is why we say, “It is more than just Baseball”. They split the team up in groups and covered a few more Nursing homes in the community. They took a couple of hours off to refresh and get ready for that night’s game.
A very fine gesture was noticed at the gates of the game that night, the American Legion had t-shirts printed. Not only did they have the All-Stars Logo on the shirts respecting their visit, but they had their saying, ”It’s more than just Baseball” across the front of the T-Shirts! The towns’ coordinators of the events, like Susie Peterson and Verlaine Williams with the Albert Lea visitors’ bureau, along with the American Legion of Albert Lea MN., Commander Robert Friday and Dave Mullenback really got it and it showed in their actions. “The towns’ events and the game were some of the smoothest we’ve seen. It was all paid for by the American Legion, VS the team owner.” Tank stated. This was now the time that the team would start their trip back to IL. and on to their final game.
Quincy IL. game almost did not happen this season, due to scheduling conflicts. When Jimmy Louthan, the GM and Tank finally had a workable date, the All-Stars would have to book a couple more games to stay in that area a little longer. They both were very happy they did that. Deron, Jimmy’s assistant escorted the All-Stars to many functions that day. One was a radio interview that Tank and player, Chris Collins, Navy, attended at 8:00 AM at the local McDonalds. Deron also escorted the team to a couple of Television covered events and newspaper interviews.
The game turned out to have the largest crowd of the season. Many were saying, well over 2000! The Quincy Gems and some of their sponsors, like Mercantile Bank, recently decided to erect a Veterans wall of Honor. It was Beautiful! So many of the local Veterans, going many years back, are being honored. Just on this game date alone, they had several folks being honored. “As a matter of fact, their Honor ceremony performed before the All-Stars Pre-game ceremony, was the best that we had EVER seen put on by an opposing team.”, Tank stated!
The game starts and they are in for a fun filled evening. Tank could not say it was always a competitive game, “the Gems slammed us on the teams very last night”, Tank stated. We were down to 10 players and one of them, Brian Merrigan, the Army medic playing outfield, was injured with a pulled hamstring. Two more players were called back to their Duty station and the Air Force Academy the day before, Rob Starma, Marine and Ryan Robb, Air Force. “It’s that revolving roster problem again”, the coach says.
The coach saw that the owner, Jimmy had purchased an autographed Cooperstown Red, White & Blue bat for his son from Tank at the Merchandise tent. He grabbed one of the team’s extra bats from Marucci’s Military Slugger game on D-Day and had the team autograph it for him. The gesture was deserving for one of the best teams and management we visited this season.
During difficult times like these, we had to remind each other that although we have traveled over 10,000 miles across 11 States in just 70+ days, and having around 15 players leave or change their arrival times with new orders for Deployments or Educational travel it goes back to our mission and why we do what we do. A little different than most civilian traveling teams. Tank adds, “But it was fun, exciting, crowded and one of the craziest successful seasons we have seen in the past several years traveling across this wonderful Country. We had some great events and a few average appearances but with the new media day planned will make a big difference. After all, even with a lower player count, the All-Stars did hold their own.”
At the St. Joseph Mustangs game, which was 12 innings. The US Military All-Stars eventually did lose to the Mustangs by one, due to an error. True All*Star performance, but you cannot win them all. Tank Stone continues, let me try to explain “Only 8 players were allowed to stay for the entire tour. Take a quick look at just a few of the challenges, several past players joined us for only 1 to 5 games as we pass by their areas. There were 3 injuries, which all teams unfortunately have to deal with. 2 stayed and returned to play; one eventually had to return back to his base, Mike Lowery, Air Force (Featured on the cover). 3 players had to leave during their scheduled time for personal family or Military job & Education reasons. 9 players after making the cut and already on the original roster, actually could not make the tour for assorted reasons.”
One positive example was, a Military Promotion. One player, catcher Eddie Colon, Air Force, took over his Command of medical Helicopters. A Military transfer, Danny Collins had to leave for a physical on a Coast Guard Base. He returned to the team in several days, only to then be transferred to another ship and have to leave again immediately, for the remainder of the season. That man could hit! Boy was Danny missed this season. Even Pregnancies hit the All-Stars, 2 men unaware before finalizing the roster this year. One man had to leave once he was informed.
It is very challenging during some seasons, some months, even some days. “We have ALWAYS been able to work it out”. Tank states, but things do happen. It’s not that we don’t plan or have a backup. We’ve been blessed and have always had enough Military or Veterans to play. When duty calls though, our Heroes must respond to their commands. They all must follow orders, VS. just play baseball. Even with the importance of our Recruiting duties & Honor ceremonies we conduct to raise awareness for our Military to the civilian communities as we visit. We started with close to 30 scheduled players out of 90 + that originally signed up to travel and play. At our lowest, we did get down below a dozen for a bit, but they were all great players and it worked out fine.
The men started their departure flights as soon as they got to Nashville TN around 4PM CST, all through the following evening. It was time to head back to their bases all across the world. “FROM THE BALLFIELD TO THE BATTLEFIELD”, Coach Bodie says. Lesean Thomas, Air Force has the longest multiple flights. He will see his Family, pick up his wife and they will head back to Japan. Last year he was stationed in Colorado. That is where coach Bodie had to drive to when he left Nashville. Another 23 hours, after he stayed a couple of days at Tanks home, before his final leg of traveling. He clocked close to 14,000 miles this year. (They are volunteers and they put this kind of wear and tear on our personal vehicles every season). Tank points out. “Our goal is for any Veteran, Military, or Baseball Strong Sponsors for this upcoming season to read this part!! If you did and you would like the All-Stars to visit your community, share your thoughts on our websites home page, or hit the contact tab”. If you would like to assist the All-Stars please Click on that donate button located on the Home page or the Donate Tab. You can’t miss it; it has a picture of a Gas pump. That’s correct, Tank smiles, “because that is what cost our team the most, TRANSPORTATION, FUEL for traveling”. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS | DONATE
If sponsors would take advantage of our tax deduction donations through our 501C3, it would make for a much better stress free tour. Tank is constantly reminding everyone as he searches for those like-minded sponsors. If they understood what honoring our Heroes through the Venue of Baseball, while barnstorming American towns and cities meant to our Veterans and those communities around the country, they would see the bang for their buck. They would yield great results!!! The US Military All-Stars, along with a lot of 501C3 Non-Profits have a great track record!
While we conclude our coverage of this year’s Tour, we wanted to again mention the dedication we saw first-hand with those who really made this Tour about Honoring Veterans through the venue of baseball. For all who assisted this season, the players, the opposing teams, the vendors and sponsors that helped the All-Stars have product to wear, use and sell, thank you. Also, thanks to the media across the country that advertised the games and the Honor Ceremonies. Which is a fine gesture for Honoring their own Veterans in their own communities.
Look at how many Veterans were Honored! Look how many Kids came and we rocked their worlds! We all can remember being young and what it was like to watch a Baseball game and to get an autograph from one of your favorite players! Well, these kids were able to also experience seeing their local Heroes receive the recognition, they all DESERVE!! Tank points out, “we brought entire communities together”! Hundreds and thousands of fans felt it, saw it and will remember each one of those men and women that allowed us the freedoms we all enjoy and have.
FINAL THOUGHTS – Tank Stone
As the final words and thoughts were being shared to finish this article, a message came by email from overseas. “Tank it’s Trevor Baldwin, Just like we spoke of what could happen did, I’m deployed, AGAIN, for the second time! From the Ballfield to the Battlefield. I’m in Afghanistan!! You always tell folks that the Heroes of the Diamond are coming from the Battlefield to the Ball Field, Now I’m taking it back the other way”.
Trevor was one of the few players that secured orders to stay with the All-Stars, for the entire tour this year. Trevor is from N.C. he is a Marine, and played the Infield. On week two, over 20 of his family, dressed in printed shirts proudly reading his name with the All-Stars. They came to both NC games to show their support and love for their own family Hero. He was injured in week 3, with a pulled hamstring. He took on other duties while working out the injury. Keeping records, umpiring third base, just being a strong part of our team and a great morale booster, he even joined me on air for an interview and did a great job!!
Trevor eventually joined the team back on the field until the last minute of the last game in Quincy, IL. One week before the final game, we were in St. Joseph, MO. when a ball beaned Trevor off the ear. It bled and was sore, but it was better quickly. Within several weeks he received his orders to deploy again for his Country, to the Middle East. As he is there getting acclimated to the extreme changes in everything, especially attitude towards his surroundings, he shared a few thoughts with me in a letter.
“Tank, I’m so sorry to hear of your mothers passing. I know no one looks forward to dealing with such sorrow. I am so glad we had the time in Florida this season. Your visiting your mom over those few weeks was good and I know will be remembered. I want you to know I already have approval from my command to join the men and the All-Stars team next season. I will be back in April, just in time. In all of my 22 years, those 3 months were the best in my life. The ups and the downs are what made it real.”
Here is a young man that has played baseball for as long as he can remember, serving his country and deployed to what most say is a tough war zone. Sharing his desire to travel the country with the 27th Annual Red, White & Blue Tour. Saying it was the best experience, one of a lifetime and he can not wait to do it again. Trevor participated in every aspect of the tour this year. He truly understands the meaning behind, “It’s more than just Baseball”. Some players before they arrive are thinking it is only about playing. They are then involved with the Honor Ceremonies, parades and visits raising awareness for the Veterans, Nursing Homes and local businesses.
A few really are touched with the experience and will get involved with the media. Then there are many like Trevor Baldwin from past years of All-Star players that say, “can I come back”, put me in coach I’m ready to play!” I can’t help but reflect on the ball that hit Trevor by accident. How he took it, how he got over it and moved on. Now, he is ducking bullets on purpose, not baseballs by accident! Some may wonder why the All-Stars are referred to as, “The Heroes of the Diamond”! They chose to defend our freedom by serving their country and put their baseball dreams on the back burner. The US Military All-Stars is the one proven and well known team by all Joint Armed Forces. That for over 26 years, has given Active Duty personnel a chance to play baseball while lifting Veterans and leading with Honor through the venue of Baseball.
What a season full of great games and sights across the 11 States. God Bless all of the folks that were positive in their actions towards these young men. A special thanks to those who allowed this 26th Red, White & Blue Tour to happen without conflict and who showed these young Heroes the time of their lives. God Bless those who assisted and believed in the true mission of the All-Stars, to Honor all who have ever worn a uniform in defense of our freedom, in their communities. God Bless you all and God Bless America”!