For decades, America’s pastime has provided relief to baseball fans all over the county. It’s a time for people to come together, forget their worries, and get lost in a simple game of baseball.
Growing up in St. Louis, you have no other choice than to be a Cardinals fan. My love for the Redbirds stemmed from my dad, who, at 14 years old, went to spring training and snapped a picture with Stan “The Man” Musial, an icon in baseball and a treasure to Cardinals fans.
Six years later, my dad was drafted and placed in the United States Marine Corps to serve in Vietnam.
Fighting in Vietnam didn’t provide much time for my dad to play a game of catch. On off-white, lined paper, he repeatedly asked his parents for a Polaroid camera to capture the unforgettable moments he witnessed in Dong Ha, Vietnam. Soon after my grandparents read their son’s plea, he received that coveted Polaroid to take hundreds of pictures. For my dad, the camera was a nice distraction.
Like my dad, troops today long for a way to recapture some of that innocence and curiosity of their youth. What better way to encapsulate that than through sports?
Flash forward to the year 2013. Vance Albitz is a minor league baseball player for the Springfield Cardinals, the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor-league team. He set a goal this offseason to collect 1,000 gloves and send them overseas to troops in Afghanistan.
“I’ve always wanted to do something, it started off as a goal of sending baseball gloves to soldiers,” said Albitz.
That lofty goal of 1,000 gloves has snowballed into almost 2,000 gloves being sent overseas. And, after reading about Vance’s initiative, Veterans United stepped up the plate and donated 300 gloves plus hundreds of t-shirts to soldiers overseas.
United States Army Staff Sgt. Billy Sapp, stationed in Korea, received one of Vance’s packages and said it was a game-changer.
“I really appreciate everything they do for us; they’re helping us boost our morale,” he said.
Similarly, the gloves reminded soldiers like Spc. Small in Afghanistan of simpler times.
“I have to tell you though the chances I’ve been able to play since I got this glove, takes me back every time to those cool spring days in left field catching those fly balls. And just those simple times of playing catch with me dad. I never realized how special those memories are, now that they were so long ago.”
Thanks to Gloves 4 Troops, soldiers like Spc. Small can feel closer to home while serving thousands of miles away.
Back to that Vietnam soldier. Decades after the war ended, Lance Cpl. Larry Wexelman passed away from complications of Agent Orange.
He wasn’t just a soldier who loved baseball, he was my dad.
Although Gloves4Troops came too late for him, it’s not too late for countless other heroes to catch a moment of peace.