Royals welcome, admire wounded vets
Players, coaches respect perseverence, dedication of injured servicemen
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Wege sounded much like any player who had just been on the losing side.
"It didn't go as planned, obviously," Wege said, sweat streaming down this face. "We got our butts kicked out here today. We just looked flat."
His team, though, is quite out of the ordinary. Wege plays for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, composed of military veterans who lost arms and legs in the service of their country. Wege, a Marine from Wisconsin, lost both legs below the knees in Afghanistan.
The Wounded Warrior team might have lost the game but won hearts, respect, admiration and cheers on Saturday morning at the Kansas City Spring Training complex. Their mission is to raise awareness of the sacrifices and resilience of the military and their ability to rise above any challenge.
Two of their players talked to Royals players, both Major and Minor Leaguers, for a session that held their attention for about 45 minutes.
"It's a great message of service, perseverance, pride, stick-to-itiveness, love of country and just the importance of going forward in life," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's a great message, and we're honored that they're here today."
Wege told of his light armored vehicle running over an IED and its aftermath: "I stretched out my legs and they were shredded."
Justin Feagin, an Army sergeant, lost the lower half of his left leg in Afghanistan.
"It was a remote-controlled IED, so they were watching me and they knew exactly when to detonate it. I was on foot, I wasn't in a truck. Brutal," he said.
The softball team, formed in 2011, frequently plays exhibition or celebrity games around the country.
"We don't want sympathy, we want to send a message. Our motto for the team is "Life without a limb is limitless' and so we try to embody that in everything we do," Feagin said.
The Wounded Warriors played a game against a team of Royals Minor League coaches in front of stands filled with players and fans.
Hall of Famer George Brett was the Warriors' manager for the game and when he gathered them together before the game, there wasn't much he could say to inspire them.
"They were the inspiration all day," Brett said.
They certainly got the most cheers from the players, who hooted every mistake their coaches made and applauded every catch and hit by the Warriors. The Royals coaches came out swinging. Big Brian Buchanan, the Lexington manager, sent three home runs sailing over the left-field fence. But the biggest cheers from the watching Minor Leaguers came when he took a mighty swing, hit a weak foul and flopped facedown into the dirt at home plate.
(The Warriors got even with Buchanan after the game when, challenged to a push-up contest, he lost badly to their Greg Reynolds. Reynolds has one arm.)
The Warriors were slow getting going but later Wege smashed a home run and they came up with a five-run inning.
"It was an honor just to be in the dugout around those guys," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said, "just to see what they've been through and how they still live their lives and go out with such joy, passion, energy and that desire to win in a softball game. They were playing as hard as they could. They've got some talented guys out there. We are fortunate as Americans to have guys like that supporting this country."
The players ran with prosthetic legs or threw with the one arm they had.
"Amazing," Brett said. "I don't think anybody in our camp is going to be feeling sorry for themselves today. Hopefully, the message they gave the players is going to touch base about dealing with adversity and overcoming it. I thought it was pretty special."
Royals manager Ned Yost has visited veterans hospitals in the past.
"You see them now out playing softball. They're missing arms, they're missing legs and they're having fun," Yost said. "But what you don't see is the years of rehabilitation and hard work that they've put forth to get back on that field. They're special young men."
Wege had the Warriors' only home run, but he wasn't happy when he looked at the 20-6 final on the scoreboard. He was already looking forward to a doubleheader next Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas.
"We're going to bounce back and show just how resilient we are. This was not us out here today," Wege said. "But hopefully, even though the scoreboard doesn't show it, people take away from this game what we want them to -- and that's a message of hope and perseverance."
Moustakas saw the competitive fire burning in the Warriors.
"They don't like to lose. They're in an environment where losing is unacceptable and that was the kind of attitude they had," Moustakas said. "Just being able to be around those guys was an honor for me."
Moustakas and nine of his teammates took the field before Saturday's game against the Cubs to catch ceremonial first pitches by members of the Warrior team.
To hear them tell it, it was the Warriors who were honored to be around the Royals players and to be able to be on the field.
"Getting out here and getting talk to these Royals is absolutely amazing," Feagin said. "These guys are professional baseball players and I look up to these guys."
Wege relished the experience.
"It was a fun day for all," he said. "I mean, any day you get to come out here under the sun and step between the white lines, that's a good day on earth."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.