FORT HOOD, Texas--Childhood fantasies turned into a dream come true for a group of Fort Hood wounded warriors recently when they walked onto the plush infield of The Ballpark, the home of the Texas Rangers, the 2010 and 2011 American League Major League Baseball champs.
Gloves in hand, donning cammie T-shirts lettered with the words 'Feldy's Faces of Freedom,' the eager Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Brigade's 1st Battalion were ready to "play ball" with the Texas Ranger legends, thanks to the generosity of Scott Feldman and his wife Kelli who had invited the WTB team to Arlington to kick off the inaugural Faces of Freedom softball game, part of the pre-game activity before the July 1 game between the Rangers and the Oakland Athletics.
"To stand on this field," said Staff Sgt. Timothy Pope, a McKinney native who said he was born a Ranger fan, "was a childhood fantasy of mine. To have my dream come true is amazing. I never thought I'd be here in the outfield and to be able to see the ballpark and the dugout from the player's view. It's pretty awesome."
For Staff Sgt. Kennetta Gunns, an avid fan of major league baseball who was secretly rooting for her Oakland A's who beat the Rangers 3-1, it was the first time she had ever set foot in a major league ballpark.
"Oh my gosh, it's huge," said Gunns, who said she was star struck just seeing the names on the back of her opponents' jerseys: the Texas Ranger Legacy Alumni team of Mike Bacsik, Jr., Rusty Greer, Jose Guzman, Dave Hostetler, David Hulse, Mike Jeffcoat, Mark McLemore, Kevin Mench, Pete O'Brien, Jeff Russell and Bump Wills.
"I grew up watching them play," said Gunns, who has played softball for most of her 36 years, minus the last few years when an injury pulled her out of the game. Normally an outfielder, she was selected to play second base during team tryouts for the softball event.
"After I heard other wounded warriors were trying out, I decided to go out and see what I could do," she said, adding that she couldn't stop smiling thinking about playing ball on one of America's grandest ballparks. "I just kept thinking how proud my dad would be, that he'd think this was pretty cool."
Gunns said her only disappointment was that rain cut short the scheduled 3-inning game, which only gave the WTB team one inning at bat.
"I was disappointed that the game ended so early because some of the other team members didn't get a chance to play," said the slugger who hit a line drive between second and third, but was tagged out at first by former Ranger first baseman, Dave Hostetler.
For Feldman and his wife, hosting the softball game event was a way to recognize the military for all they do. Together, the wounded warrior player team of 13 has earned four Purple Hearts and combined for 32 deployments. The team also included three additional personnel who served as coaches and general manager.
"We wanted to do something to recognize the military and their bravery," said Feldman, "Plus it's just a nice thing to have them come out for a great time and let them throw some balls around."
The softball game is just one aspect of Scott and Kelli Feldman's Face of Freedom, which they started in 2008 as a way to support the military. Previously, they have hosted patients from local veteran administration hospitals and families of deployed servicemembers from Dyess Air Force Base, located near the West Texas town of Abilene.
Feldman's generosity was much appreciated by the wounded warriors who said the Texas Rangers Legacy team members told them individually how proud they were of the Fort Hood Soldiers and the sacrifices they make.
"They say they are humbled meeting us," said David Hulse, who played outfield for the Rangers in the early 1990s. "It shouldn't be that way. These people serve our country and give us freedom to do these kinds of things. Without them, who knows what kind of country we'd be in? I'm proud to be an American and have these people serve us. It's humbling for us to come out and play with them."
For WTB coach, Staff Sgt. Richard Gallego, Feldman and Texas Ranger alums support of Soldiers was "pretty awesome."
"It's very encouraging to see them supporting the Soldiers' healing process," Gallego said, "plus it's great for our Soldiers to see it," adding that more than 22 WTB combat-wounded Soldiers tried out for the team."
The game also meant the world to Pope because he was able to share the experience with his two 11-year-old daughters, including the feature presentation, "The Rookie," during the two-hour bus ride from Fort Hood to Arlington on the FOX Sports Southwest Fan Express VIP bus.
"Our emotions were real high on the ride up," Pope said, "You could just fill the energy," adding that he hopes other Soldiers in Transition will be able to experience similar events in the future. "It was unbelievable to be on the Ranger's field, even though it was just a softball game."
Although the final score was 3-1 at the end of an inning and a half, Ranger alum Hulse referred to just call the game "a tie," although there were some WTB team members who said they could have beaten the former baseball players if rain hadn't cut short the game by 40 minutes.
"We would have won no doubt," said Sgt. Erick Acevedo on the WTB's 30 hours of team practice. "Some of the Rangers alums even admitted they hadn't realized softball was so hard. And we had only played an inning!"
For WTB Coach Janice Johnson, time would have given the WTB a win but the day wasn't about a win, but the experience.
"They were all happy just being on the field," she said, "Even though some of them didn't get to play, it was an honor for them just to be there. They did good, and I'm proud to be there coach."