Today was an amazing….
Today was a special day at Marlins Park -and that’s putting it lightly. The moments that made up today impacted everyone involved.
Today was so great because Marlins Foundation Charity Partner, Special Olympics of Florida, brought its skills clinic to Marlins Park. Athletes of all ages – eight to adult – showcased their skills on the field at Marlins Park. That’s right – they showcased their skills. As Marlins Ayudan volunteers that spent the morning working with the athletes, we were told early on that today we would learn a lot more about the athletes’ abilities than their disabilities. That’s exactly what happened.
The standout moment of the day for me began when I went over to speak to some 4th graders from Kensington Park Elementary. They were all so eager to talk to me about Marlins Park, about their day, about their favorite sports, and so on, and so forth. One boy in particular, Joshua, had a lot of questions about Marlins Park. I spoke with him for a long time until it was time to start the skills assessment. I told him I’d see him when see got to my station.
A few hours later when I finally welcomed Kensington Park Elementary to the [Major League!] dugout to get ready for base running, Joshua immediately stated with fire,
“Coach! I’ve been looking for you all day! I have so much more to talk to you about”.
His statement blew me away. First of all, I was honored. I felt like after knowing him for a mere half hour that I was one of his role models, like a mentor or older sibling, whose time was all that mattered to him. Second of all, he really did have so much more to ask about his surroundings. Joshua was in a never-ending pursuit of knowledge.
In addition to Joshua’s blossoming curiosity a few of the inspiring abilities I noticed in the athletes today were:
Chivalry amongst peers,
Rockin dance moves,
Knack for following directions,
Tolerance for others’ beliefs…
Oh, and of course:
Coming to work this morning I’m not sure the Marlins front office knew what to expect for a day working with Special Olympics athletes, but the early advice we received most definitely proved true – We would learn more about their abilities than their disabilities.
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!
It’s Saturday night at Marlins Park… if you were in your seats at the start of the 6th inning, you were already getting the sense that you may see something really special happen. Something you don’t talk about or even hint at: a perfect game. Crack! A clean base hit breaks up Henderson’s bid for perfection and many in the stands felt like they were almost witness to something special.
My take on Saturday was viewed through a different lens. You see, before Henderson threw the first pitch of the game, I had already witnessed something special. It was the Marlins Foundation Charity Partner Day and representing Special Olympics of Florida was Sabrina Meador, a young girl with Down syndrome. Sabrina was at Marlins Park for more than just a ceremony though; she was escorted to wait in the Marlins home dugout while her favorite player, Jose Fernandez, was about to surprise her with a bouquet of flowers. Jose turns the corner at the top steps from the clubhouse and Sabrina shouts, “JOSE!!!” darting over and embracing him with a great big hug, both smiling from ear to ear.
This was not Sabrina’s first interaction with Jose… on National Down Syndrome Awareness Day, to create awareness and support, we are all asked to wear “funky socks” and show them off. The Marlins had a Spring Training game that day and the guys were ALL IN and excited to sport their polka dot Marlins socks during the game. Jose would go one step further and sent a young girl named Sabrina an autographed cap. She took to social media and her response was priceless (see below).
We’re back in the dugout of Marlins Park and Jose is showing Sabrina around when he informed her that she will be throwing out the first pitch and that he’s going to be the one to catch it. She is beyond excited and nervous at the same time, so Jose suggests that they warm up with a game of catch.
The moment had finally come and I don’t even remember if she threw a strike or not, all I can remember is the look on her face as Jose walked out to the mound to congratulate her in front of the Saturday night crowd at Marlins Park… So while Henderson threw a two-hit shutout gem on his birthday (the game was the day after his birthday), all I could talk about for the rest of the night and the next day at Easter dinner was little Sabrina and the night that she will never forget.
Something really special happened at Marlins Park last Saturday.
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!