Mets Lead Way In Support of Veterans

Published on: 5th June, 2011

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New York — No matter the trials and tribulations the New York Mets have gone through this season, from their well-publicized financial difficulties to the endless string of injuries to key players, they’ve been able to push aside their baseball-related challenges when it comes to their support of the United States military.

This past week, the Mets (along with Citibank) participated in “Teammates in the Community Week,” a weeklong series of programs in the Big Apple that paid tribute to active military personnel and veterans.  

In a whirlwind of activities, Mets players and organizational personnel visited the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum this past Monday, hosted a wheelchair softball game at Citi Field on Tuesday, and went to the Empire State Building for a special lighting ceremony to honor the military on Wednesday.   

After Thursday’s come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mets players joined in a post-game softball tournament with members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines on the playing field at Citi Field. Over 50 members of the armed forces participated in the games while they were cheered on by Mets players Jonathan Niese, Chris Capuano, Pedro Beato and coaches Mookie Wilson and Ken Oberkfell.

“It’s great to come out here and enjoy the comraderie with these guys,” said Niese. “My grandpa was in World War II. He didn’t talk about it much but he served in Germany during the war. Sometimes we take our every day lives for granted but it’s these guys who keep us safe.”

Capuano, who has a cousin in the Army and a niece in the Marines was excited to be hanging out with these veterans.

“I feel so blessed to be playing baseball and I just wanted to come out and thank them for their service,” Capuano said. “They put it all on the line for us and I have a lot of respect for that. Where I live in Phoenix, there’s a big Air Force presence so I’m playing for them, today.”

Mets all-timer, Wilson, also has a deep connection to U.S. military forces.

“My daughter was in the Navy and my brother was, too,” Wilson told me as we watched the Army softball team playing against the Navy team. “My brother just retired and my daughter put in eight years. My brother was deployed four times.  There’s nothing like a little ballgame like this one here at Citi Field to boost their morale, and ours, too.”

Yesterday, at the Veterans Administration Hospital on E. 23rd street in Manhattan, a Mets contingent led by first-year general manager, Sandy Alderson walked through a variety of hospital sections, meeting and greeting veterans who had fought overseas for their country as far back as World War II.

During an early afternoon visit from Alderson, coaches Chip Hale and Jon Debus, and first baseman, Daniel Murphy, the wards of this hospital were transformed into a feel-good, hopeful, and positive environment instead of what these places often feel like to its patients, the epitome of bleak hopelessness.

One of the patients the Mets entourage interracted with, Solomon Waner, just turned 91 years old. Born in the Bronx, Waner became a musician who entertained the troops during WW II. He played the drums onstage with Bob Hope, the legendary comedian who trekked to military bases worldwide. His smile and his joke-telling told visitors all they needed to know about the positive outlook he had on life.  But, it was the visit from the Mets that made his day.

“I’ve followed the Mets since the team started in 1962,” he said. “I’ve always been a big fan. I hope they get a little better this year.”  

Alderson related to these veterans on a deep level, as he was a first lieutenant who served in the Marines during the height of the Vietnam War.

“I was deployed from 1969 to 1972 and my dad was in the military, too,” Alderson told me as the high-spirited Waner was sharing stories. “My dad was in the Air Force for 30 years, in World War II and Korea.”

Alderson listened to all the stories these veterans in this hospital shared today. The smile on Alderson’s face told you he understood and related very well.

“Just talking to guys and hearing those experiences resonate with me because they are similar to mine in some way,” said Alderson. “You can empathize with them and just be a good listener because you are sort of informed, which is a great thing. That’s what I enjoy about this.”

Dr. Mort Rubinstein, a hospital administrator talked about the impact of these kinds of visits.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Rubinstein said. “The Mets should be lauded for their participation. We would love to see more athletes coming here more often. It really does help the veterans feel better.”

Hale, the Mets third base coach said, “They have done so much for us. They keep us safe. This is the least we can do for them. I enjoy hearing their stories. All my years playing in the minor leagues, we used to do things like this. It definitely makes you feel good.”

We met a Vietnam veteran, a quiet man named Ernesto Rivera, who was a sergeant. Rivera was in the dialysis unit, where he must come for treatments three times per week.

“It feels great that the Mets are here, today,” he said. “It’s nice of them to come and visit us over here. This is usually a depressing period for us so they really help. My kidneys can’t function by themselves so well, anymore. You’re really exhausted when you’re done with these treatments but then you feel pretty good the next day. These Mets bring some happiness.”

The Mets players and coaches seemed to gain as much from their visit as the veterans.

“We come in here as players to give back to veterans who’ve done so much for us but as we leave, it feels like they’ve given more to us, said Murphy. “When you see what they go through and what they went through to allow us the freedoms we sometimes take for granted, it’s a very worthwhile experience, very enjoyable.

“It puts things in perspective for me about what really matters. It makes baseball pale in comparison to what they’ve risked on a daily basis. Fred Wilpon really has a passion for veterans. It’s a passion he wants to instill in Mets players and employees of the organization. If you’re going to be part of the Mets family, one of the things we’re going to do is to help out our veterans. I love Fred’s passion for this, whether it’s at Walter Reed Hospital or here. 

Wilpon hasn’t heard a whole lot of positives thrown his way lately. This is one area where his words and his actions can only be appreciated.   

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