First lady: 'Thank you for your service'
Michelle Obama, Jill Biden honor veterans prior to Game 1
ST. LOUIS -- Konrad Faries was serving as an Army infantryman in Afghanistan in 2009, hopeful each day of finding Osama bin Laden. One day, his battalion received enemy fire and his vehicle was hit.
"We rolled down the side of a mountain, 30 feet down," he remembers all too well. "From there, it was just nighty-night time. I was in and out of a coma for three days."
On Wednesday afternoon, Faries accepted a warm hug from first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden at the St. Louis VA Medical Center. Then in that private moment, he thanked the first lady, on behalf of his sons and wife, for the news last May that bin Laden had been killed.
The hospital was the scene of a moving gathering that also included Commissioner Bud Selig, Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst and owners Bill DeWitt Jr. of the Cardinals and Fred Wilpon of the Mets, as Major League Baseball opened its 107th World Series with a focus on veterans and military families.
The events raised awareness of MLB's Welcome Back Veterans initiative and the White House's Joining Forces program. The spotlight continued to shine hours later at the ballpark, where Obama and Biden participated in pregame ceremonies.
"The Welcome Back Veterans program is a shining example of what we want this country to do for the men and women who have served us so well, and their families," Obama said. "This is exactly what we had in mind when we started Joining Forces.
"By Major League Baseball shining a light on these events, we want America to know that everyone can do something. Everyone should do something. Every business, every church, every individual, every school, every teacher -- we should all know who are the military families in our midst. We should find out what they need and step up and provide that."
This is the third consecutive year that MLB is using its largest stage to bring attention to important initiatives over the first four games. Game 2 will be community service; Game 3 helps underserved youth; and Game 4 will be dedicated to cancer research and awareness.
"I'd like to let all the veterans know that Major League Baseball is proud of you and we are grateful for your service to the United States of America," Selig told the 100 or so veterans and military family members in attendance. "I hope that our dedication of Game 1 of the World Series is a clear demonstration of our gratitude, and that you will be proud of the work we will continue to do to benefit veterans and their families for decades to come."
Biden thanked veterans, and during her speech, she could not resist noting that the National League is represented in this World Series not by her beloved Phillies, but by the Cardinals club that shocked them in the NL Division Series.
"Now some of you may know that I'm a big baseball fan, and I'm a Philly girl," Biden said. "But I'm going to set that aside today, because we are here to honor veterans and their families."
Faries, still a member of the National Guard, is a longtime Cardinals fan who said it was a thrill to see Schoendienst in his midst. Faries said the focus by MLB at the World Series was especially welcome to those who have served.
"My wife wasn't able to come today, she had the boys at home, so I thanked her on behalf of my boys and my wife for killing Osama bin Laden -- or making the final order to do it, anyway," Faries said.
"Growing up a huge baseball fan -- obviously 'Go Cardinals' -- it's huge to see people like Red Schoendienst, Bud Selig and the whole Cardinals family to offer the kind of support that Major League Baseball is offering. It's amazing. As an American, that's what you grow up watching, baseball. Now they're here supporting us -- it feels good."
Welcome Back Veterans is an MLB Charities initiative in partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and in the last three years, it has awarded more than $11 million in grants to nonprofit agencies and programs to benefit veterans and their families' greatest needs. It was designed to support returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their family members as they transition to civilian life.
"Although the Welcome Back Veterans program is relatively new, baseball's connection is not," Selig said. "Some of the greatest players ever to step foot on a field were veterans of the armed forces. Baseball immortals such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and, of course, the great Stan Musial, served their country proudly."
Those in attendance saw the premiere of a PSA from MLB and the White House, featuring Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon. Both players came from military families.
"We're not heroes," said Teixeira, whose father was in the reserves when Mark was born. "The real ones are those who protect our freedom."
Selig acknowledged Schoendienst on the stage, noting that the Hall of Famer was an Army veteran. Selig also thanked Wilpon for his initiative in the creation of Welcome Back Veterans three years ago.
Obama said her husband and the vice president would have been jealous that the two of them were at the World Series -- as they were two years ago to get Game 1 started at Yankee Stadium.
"The focus and commitment that Major League Baseball has shown to veterans and military families and our troops has just been tremendous," the first lady said. "It has been organization-wide. Every player on every team, every official from top to bottom, has been involved in an extremely passionate way.
"Even though we are not a part of the military family, we are all a part of the American family. So every single one of us has an obligation to recognize, honor and support the men and women who protect us, and the families who love them. They can't serve without those families having their back. That's why Jill and I and Major League Baseball are here today. We want to come here to say thank you for your service, your sacrifice, your patriotism, because we know just how extraordinary you are. That's what all this attention is about."