The Washington Nationals have had plenty of All-Star worthy campaigns in 2012, from the stellar pitching atop the rotation and throughout the bullpen, to the comeback year by Adam LaRoche and the breakout campaigns of Ian Desmond and rookie Bryce Harper. But the Nationals are already guaranteed to send a pair of their own to the All-Star Game: two members of the Washington Nationals Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.
The squad of veterans and active duty servicemen made its triumphant return to Nationals Park on April 3, playing in front of an overwhelmingly supportive crowd in an easy victory over a team of Washington-area celebrities. They have since gone on to play – and defeat – able-bodied competition throughout the season, once again proving that “life without a limb is limitless.” On Thursday, Major League Baseball announced that two members of the team will be invited to play in the 2012 Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game in Kansas City on July 8. Third baseman Saul Bosquez and shortstop Matt Kinsey will join celebrities like actor Jon Hamm, U.S. National Soccer Team captain Carlos Bocanegra, NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, and a host of former Major Leaguers for the nationally-televised event.
When Kinsey was first told of the opportunity a couple of days ago by coach David Van Sleet, he thought he was on the wrong end of a practical joke.
“David called me the other day and told me,” explains Kinsey. “I thought he was joking around at first. I’ve never even been to an All-Star Game. So to get to play at it and attend all the events? It’s unbelievable.”
One of the most refreshing parts about chatting with the Wounded Warriors is how grateful they are for the opportunities presented to them. For those of us that work in the game, the magic of stepping out onto a Major League field can wear off as the act becomes routine. Not for Kinsey and Bosquez.
“It gets me every time,” says Bosquez about stepping onto the grass. “It doesn’t even have to be a Major League field – it means so much just for us to be stepping out on the field period. Most of us never thought we would be doing anything like this.”
Kinsey and Bosquez will get the real Major League treatment, too, as they are competing in a trio of games in Wisconsin on Saturday, and have to fly into Kansas City on Sunday morning to make it to Kaufmann Stadium in time for the game. For the duo, who have each been with the team since its inception in the Spring of 2011, it’s all still a bit overwhelming. They marvel at the progress that has been made in just over a year’s time.
“To be there at the start, and to see where it’s at now, I would have never dreamed it,” admits Kinsey.
“It’s huge for the both of us and huge for the team,” adds Bosquez. “The best ballplayers are going to be on one field, and we get to play there. It’s surreal. I’m having trouble putting it into words.”
More so than the celebrities, the Wounded Warriors are looking forward to meeting the former players who will be taking part in the game, particularly the likes of Ozzie Smith, Ernie Banks and Mike Piazza. As a shortstop, Kinsey may have to compete with Ozzie, one of his childhood idols, for playing time.
“I don’t think I could quite kick Ozzie out of short,” he laughs. “I’d be happy to play anywhere.”
If the Wounded Warriors have the same effect in Kansas City as they have had on those around the rest of the country the last year, we get the feeling their teammates for the game will be happy to let them shine in the national spotlight.
The Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game will follow the State Farm Home Run Derby and will be televised on ESPN, beginning at approximately 10:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 8.