MARCO ISLAND — Nobody rolled over. Two well-matched teams put everything they had into the game, at the return engagement of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team vs. the Marco All-Stars. So the crowd that packed Winterberry Park on Saturday morning got to see a hard-fought, seesaw game but in the end the home team won.
The home team, on the scoreboard and, judging from the cheers of the fans, in their hearts, was the Warriors.
The crowd, estimated by Alex Galiana of the Marco Island Parks & Recreation Dept., and manager of the All-Star at nearly 1,000, had no hesitation in rooting against their neighbors and family members, and pulling for the Wounded Warriors. Each player on the traveling squad lost at least one limb in combat. In virtually every case, the soldiers lost their arms or legs to IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, the deadly roadside bombs used by insurgents who did not want to face the US troops in open battle.
Even Galiana said he was satisfied with the result.
“What a phenomenal game. It’s an honor to play against these young men. We jumped out to a big lead early, but they kept grinding back.” After two innings, the local squad, made up the cream of the firefighters, police department, city league and senior softball rosters, had a 7-2 advantage in runs.
“We loaded the bases in the top of the eighth, but they closed us out and left our runners stranded,” said Galiana. Using a variety of state of the art prosthetic legs, including ski-like “running feet” and “walking feet” with shock absorbers, the Warriors showed their athleticism. Outfielders with one arm would snag a fly ball with their glove, toss the ball in the air, drop the glove, and make the peg with their bare hand.
Fielders leaped high on metallic legs, and base runners beat out the toss to first base. Some batters got pinch runners after getting on base, and the Warriors’ pinch runners often were running on prosthetics.
When they came off the field after each inning, the Warriors tended to their legs, doffing prosthetics and neoprene sleeves to wipe off the sweat.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Warriors jumped out to a 17-13 lead, and that’s the way the game ended.
“You guys put up a good fight but at the banquet last night, we pretty much told you what would happen,” said David Van Sleet, founder and manager of the Wounded Warriors team. In truth, though, the game could have gone either way.
The fundraising was an even bigger success, and Galiana credited island stalwart Steve Stefanides with spearheading that effort.
“He put the team together, got the heavy hitters, and then got on the grill and cooked at the game,” said Galiana. The Warriors were presented with a check for $28,000 at the game, but Monday morning, “we’re still counting the money,” and the tally had risen to over $30,000, he said.
“The first time they came here, on 11/11/11, we raised about $4,800, and I wanted to take it to the next level. He credited Santo Gentile of Joey’s Pizzeria for first conceiving the idea of bringing the Wounded Warriors to Marco.
Joey’s was a major donor to the cause, along with Kretch’s Nacho Mama’s, Sasso’s and Cocomo’s, All of the restaurants had representatives playing for the All-Stars.
Kinetico donated the water, and announcer Bill Schurina of the senior softball league provided the hot air, in his role as PA announcer, quick to stick a needle into the home team that is, the Marco All-Star players, and incite the crowd to agitate for ignoring the rule limiting scoring to five runs in any one inning.
Many of the All-Stars are also military veterans, including all the senior league representatives. They were veterans, too, in the sense of having received their honorable discharges, in many cases, 20 years before the Wounded Warriors players were born.
“Marco Island is a very special community. I can’t say enough about the reception we were given here,” said Van Sleet. He said his team demonstrates the sacrifice and resilience of our soldiers, and their ability to rise above challenges. “We want to show other amputees, and everyone who sees or hears about us, that life without a limb is limitless.”