The following entry was written early Saturday morning…
So, it’s 1:23am on Saturday morning, and I find myself at Coral Shores High School in the Florida Keys. I am sitting in a 12-passenger van, and I’m supposed to be asleep. But come on! This place is bustling with excitement, enthusiasm and a passion that I can’t quite put into words. “It’s Ragnar, baby!” At least that’s what keeps being shouted into the night!
I, along with my colleague Adrian Mora, am the navigator of Van #2 for the Marlins Ayudan Ragnar Relay Team. What is that, you may ask? Well, it is a 196-mile, 12-member relay race from Miami to Key West.
That’s right… 12 people, on foot, tag teaming it all the way to the Southernmost Point!
Team Marlins Ayudan has embarked on this challenge all in the name of charity. In particular, it is to honor the amazing athletes of Special Olympics Miami-Dade. So far Team Marlins Ayudan has raised over $7,200!
My fellow Blue Shirts humble me daily with their dedication to impacting others’ lives in a positive manner, but this experience has taken my admiration to a whole new level. Our van has only completed one of the three legs, but Van #1 is wrapping their second leg within the hour. Their mental toughness and stamina is inspiring… very reminiscent of the athletes for which they run.
To make a donation to the Special Olympics of Miami-Dade please visit our team’s donation page.
A beeping ball. Two buzzing bases. Blindfolds. A bat. This is the simple recipe for a game of Beep Ball. Yesterday the Marlins hosted an all- interns event, in which they teamed up with members of our charity partner, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for the second time to play this modified game of baseball. It was a day full of fun, learning, and community. Teams competed for awards such as “Sportsmanship”, “Wackiest Team”, “Best Team Chant”, “Most Team Spirit”, “Most Competitive”, and “Best Team Name”.The time spent interacting throughout the day, particularly being one another’s eyes, was very powerful. It allowed our team to learn just as much from our guests as they did from us. It was evident that everyone involved was able to take away a positive memory, as well as a better understanding and appreciation for those within our community.
As a child growing up in Indiana, Memorial Day Weekend meant two things to me: the end of school/start of summer, and the Indy 500. But, as I grew older and began to grasp it’s relevance, Memorial Day became one of the most meaningful days of the year to me. Today, as I pause to remember all of my fellow Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country, I will also pause to reflect on those moments, learning experiences and people that helped define Memorial Day for me.
I will never forget my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery. I was with my father, and I was in 6th grade. We stood in silence at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched as the soldier on guard paced back and forth…twenty one steps, twenty one seconds of stillness. That solemn routine, coupled with the uniformity of the white headstones lining the hills in all directions rocked me to my core. So began my journey of understanding the profound meaning of sacrifice and honor.
My visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor was another powerful experience. Everything I had learned in school about the events of December 7, 1941, came to life while standing above the final resting place of those who perished that fateful Sunday morning.
Another unforgettable moment happened while I was traveling home to spend Thanksgiving with my family last fall. While in Atlanta on layover, I glanced out the window and time suddenly stood still. My heart broke as a family stood at attention as they welcomed their loved one home…in a casket draped with an American flag. The reality of the ultimate sacrifice hit me like a ton of bricks. This soldier would not be celebrating Thanksgiving with his family. Instead, he gave his life defending our freedom, which among many things, meant fellow Americans (like me) could experience the peace and joy of family holidays.
During the Marlins Troops Visit in February, I witnessed time and time again another definition of sacrifice. While at Camp Patriot in Kuwait, I had dinner with Medic Dan from Ohio. During his deployment, he was sent home for his wife’s final days of pregnancy because the doctors weren’t sure she was going to survive childbirth. Days after she gave birth to a healthy son, her health stabilized and he traveled halfway around the world, back to where duty and commitment awaited him. Although he was blessed to be home for the birth, which many soldiers miss while deployed, he had to leave his wife to care for their new child as well as herself. A few nights later, I met a mom of a 5 year old boy. She said he was back home with her mother, and that she had been deployed overseas for over half of her young son’s life. That meant he is more familiar with a mom he sees on FaceTime or Skype, rather than a mom who tucks him in bed and kisses him goodnight. The sacrifice our servicemen and women make are all felt by spouses, parents and kids back home. They have to pick up the pieces and carry on as they anxiously await the return of their loved ones. Even if it’s temporary, it is still a sacrifice of time that they will never get back.
As my appreciation for Memorial Day has evolved over the years, so have my traditions. One is still watching the Indy 500 – I have many wonderful childhood memories that involve listening to or attending the race. The other is the Annual Memorial Day concert held in Washington, DC. This year, one of the honorees was fallen Army Ranger Kris Stonesifer. Kris was one of the first casualties in the war in Afghanistan. His mother, Ruth, found solace with the American Gold Star Mothers. She would go on to serve as the President of the organization, which built a unique Fisher House at Dover AFB for family members of fallen heroes. This Fisher House provides family members with a place to stay, grief counseling and other services as they await the return of their loved ones remains. The journey of Sergeant John Peck was also told. He survived not one put two life threatening attacks which left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury as well as a quad-amputee. He reminded me of one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, SGT Travis Mills (“Travis the Movie”). Travis was involved in an IED explosion in Afghanistan that resulted in him becoming a quad-amputee as well. Travis faced a harrowing recovery but he made a conscious decision to not just survive his injuries, but to LIVE his life for his wife and daughter. Less than six months after his accident, he completed the Tunnel to Towers run in NYC. Needless to say he is living life and he is currently working to open a fully accessible respite ranch for veterans and their families in Maine.
On this Memorial Day, I remember all of those who have sacrificed their life for our country and their family members they left behind. I also remember both of my Grandfathers who served during WWII: one in the Army, one in the Air Force. I honor my Uncle Bob who served in the Marines, my Uncle Ron who served in the Army and my Uncle John who served as an Officer in the Army in Vietnam. I honor my cousin Michael Smith, now retired, who served as an Army Ranger. I honor my cousin Kyle Trout, who also served in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. I honor my cousin Anthony Denkinger, who is currently at the Air Force Academy. I also honor my friend Dave Bruce, who recently returned from a deployment in SW Asia. And I honor one of my favorite people in the world, Arthur Rizer, an Army Captain who served in Iraq. They are my heroes. And they all make me so proud to be an American!
Every baseball season there are two holidays that I look forward to celebrating with my colleagues and our fans. The first, Opening Day at Marlins Park. You can literally feel the energy surging through you in anticipation for an awesome season to come. The second, Jackie Robinson Day. Every year Jackie Robinson’s legacy is memorialized by Major League Baseball on April 15, which marks the anniversary of when the Hall of Famer broke baseball’s color barrier with his first major league game with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. During this day we are reminded that baseball is more than just a game, it serves as a common bond for all people, regardless of race. One man, through his perseverance, heart and values trail-blazed history for many other minority players to enjoy the game of baseball. Reliving history through video clips, photos and presentations on this MLB holiday makes you reflect on how far we have come and how you can make a difference just by standing up for what is right.
The Marlins saluted Jackie Robinson’s heroism and legacy with Marlins President of Baseball Operations, Michael Hill, Marlins Senior Vice President and Legal Council, Derek Jackson, and Marlins Vice President and Executive Director of the Marlins Foundation, Alfredo Mesa, presenting a check for $4,200 to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The check was accepted by Christina Gordon, current Jackie Robinson Scholar attending the University of Miami, Carol Guerrero, Jackie Robinson Scholar Alumni, and Curtis Tearte, Jackie Robinson Foundation Committee Member. During a special pre-game presentation the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project boys presented their favorite Jackie Robinson core value: COURAGE, DETERMINATION, TEAMWORK, PERSISTENCE, INTEGRITY, CITIZENSHIP, JUSTICE, COMMITMENT AND EXCELLENCE. These words were values that Jackie Robinson lived by. These values not only made him a champion, but also a hero to millions of people. 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project boys represents these values everyday through their program in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. During the inning breaks on Marlins Vision, the Marlins shared interviews with Marlins players and a few RBI kids, highlighting what it means to wear 42 and how Jackie Robinson’s journey still has an impact on their lives today.
Jackie Robinson Day will forever be my second favorite “holiday.” Not just for the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the day, but the look on our fans’ faces as they cheer on our Fish that carry on the legacy of a hero by wearing number 42 with pride.
Thursday, April 17th, 2014, the Marlins Ayudan program sent our “Blue Shirts” into the community. We visited three senior living centers, one of which housed a wonderful lady who just celebrated her 101st birthday! The day was exceptional and as I soaked it all in, I reflected on five things that money could never buy.
- Smile. A simple smile, especially to a complete stranger can brighten someone’s whole day. Some of us walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders and it takes a toll on our mind, body, and soul. You never know what someone is going through, so lighten the mood and smile, it’s contagious! J
- Gratitude. Often we say “thank you” as a notion of respect, or even custom, without much regard. Take the time to give thanks no matter how big or small the blessing. And remember actions speak louder than words, so don’t be afraid to show it.
- Selflessness. Each day should be a new experience and a new hour of learning. It is easy to get so caught up in our daily tasks that we develop tunnel-vision from the outside world. Take a second and spread your wealth, whether it be wisdom or material, reach out and share yourself with another.
- Hope. A little bit of hope can go a long way. Through acts of selflessness we can provide opportunities for others to gain a sense of hope. This nation was built on hope and that same hope is in the foundation of a strong community. So dream big, and if you have nothing left, keep hope alive.
- Community. This is where people gain their identity, a sense of family and the place they call home. There have never been truer words than “you get what you put in”. It is important to build one another, grow with them, teach them, and learn from them. Life Lesson #1: The Best Things in Life are Free!