Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Astros Visit Real American Heroes

This is an update on something I posted earlier...

Houston Chronicle
July 30, 2005

The Day The Astros Visited Real American Heroes

By Drayton Mclane

Last week, the Houston Astros players and management visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital while we were in Washington, D.C., to play the Washington Nationals. Playing baseball in our nation's capitol was a significant event for the franchise because this was the first time in our 43-year history that we have had the opportunity to play there. We had the privilege of visiting with injured soldiers and their families at the hospitals, at a BBQ we hosted and as our guests at the baseball games. When I use the word privilege, I do mean privilege. It was an honor to represent the Houston Astros, the city of Houston and the state of Texas in thanking these courageous young Americans.

When my family and I purchased the Houston Astros franchise in 1992, we did it with two purposes in mind, ideals that still hold true today. I want our team to bring the city of Houston — and all of Texas — its first World Series experience and become champions as well. And I want to be able to use the magic, the excitement, the prestige of a Major League Baseball team to make a positive difference in our community. This is something we work on every day in hundreds of ways with our Community Development Department and the Astros in Action Foundation. Our mission statement reads, "Through the strength of the National Pastime, we will enhance the quality of life in our community through educational, health, and spiritual endeavors," and it remains true today.

The idea for our trips to Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital was born out of this desire to make a positive difference and out of an encounter we had during our Winter Caravan. On Jan. 25, we had the great honor of visiting with injured soldiers at Fort Hood who had just returned from Iraq and were about to receive the Purple Heart. During the visit, Adam Everett remarked that "People call baseball players heroes, but these soldiers here today are the real heroes."

To me, that spoke volumes about the kind of players, coaches and staff we have at the Astros — decent, hardworking people, full of character. Adam is our starting shortstop and an Olympic Gold Medalist, but he and the other players and staff in attendance were energized by the real heroes in the room that day. Right then, I wanted the entire Astros team to be given an opportunity to experience this moment of introspection and profound patriotism. I realized our scheduled trip to Washington, D.C., in July would provide the perfect occasion for the team to visit these real American heroes.

There is no way to prepare for a visit to these amazing facilities, and I am certain many of our players, coaching staff and front office were somewhat apprehensive on the day of their visit. However, I am proud to say that every one of our people — the entire 25-man roster, as well as coaches and staff — participated and came away a better person for the experience. While President George W. Bush was kind enough to send us a thank you note, we collectively owe a debt of gratitude to the service men and women, doctors, nurses and the staffs of these hospitals for sharing part of their hectic day with us.

During our visits we heard stories of perseverance and courage, of the will to go on despite debilitating injuries and the will to live productive and happy lives. Some of those we talked to had been in Iraq just days before. All of the soldiers we met had upbeat attitudes, and most openly expressed a desire to go back to their units and continue to serve the United States of America.

There was the helicopter pilot who had lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq. She is being fitted with prosthetic legs and wants to fly for the Army again in Iraq. How could we not be moved by the bomb demolition expert who lost his hand trying to disarm a booby-trapped bomb but wants to learn to use an artificial hand so he can return to his unit? Or the Marine who made it his life goal to serve his country for 20 years, but was disappointed he lost his leg just 12 years in? He vows to overcome it and return to active duty. I have no doubt these and the other injured soldiers we met in Washington will be able to achieve anything they want in life.

While we began this journey with the idea of giving back, the irony of our visits is that we were the ones who received a tremendous gift. Our trip gave us perspective on our lives, an uplifted spirit and a sense of patriotism that will never die. I firmly believe each of us have been touched in a way that will not be forgotten. These soldiers each have an amazing outlook on life and, in spite of the difficulties they are currently facing, are positive and upbeat at each turn. These American heroes have taught me an invaluable lesson about heroism and the determination to see a mission through to the end. I don't believe there is any better way to honor their sacrifices than to stop and be thankful each day for the freedoms we enjoy because of their hard work and dedication. There is no doubt the resolve and determination of these military servicemen and women will eliminate the threat of terrorism for our country — and the world.

McLane is owner of the Houston Astros.

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