10/31/10 11:00 PM ET
MLB dedicates Game 4 to veterans
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
"The broad appeal of the World Series gives us an incredible opportunity to raise awareness for programs that make a difference in the lives of others," Selig said. "This is a continuation of Major League Baseball's efforts to promote these important and wide-ranging issues that impact millions of our fans across the country and around the world."
Welcome Back Veterans is an MLB Charities initiative, in partnership with the McCormick and Entertainment Industry Foundations, designed to support returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families in helping them make a successful transition to civilian life. MLB already has donated more than $10 million to this effort, including funds raised from auctions of game-used products and the donation of sales from Stars & Stripes caps. Recognition for WelcomeBackVeterans.org at the World Series features special pregame and in-game ceremonies, broadcasting of the special public service announcement featuring actor Matthew McConaughey, and the V.A. facility visit. "To see it now, it's unbelievable the way the culture has accepted the veterans," said former Rangers outfielder Bobby Jones. "To see the welcome and respect these guys are getting now -- and I'm sure we're getting some of it, too -- it's pretty cool." Jones was throwing batting practice for the Rangers on Sunday night, as he often does when the team is scheduled to face a lefty that night's game. He is manager of their Triple-A Round Rock club, and his roots with the club go back to his selection by the Washington Senators in the 1967 Draft. He also is a Vietnam vet who has seen it all and has an ideal perspective on what Welcome Back Veterans means. Jones has hearing aids in each ear, the result of 105-millimeter howitzers. "In 1970, we were the most active artillery unit in Vietnam. We shot more than anybody else," he said. "I had earplugs for a while, and then you just get to a point where it's, 'Forget about it.'" His hitch lasted 14 months, and he came back in February 1971.
Jones remembers the hate."When we were there then, it's not like it is now, where you have the Web, the cell phones and all that," said Jones, from Elkton, Md. "All we'd do is see it on the paper, what was happening back in the world. We came back, we landed in Fort Lewis, Wash., and we were flying out of Seattle. After we processed out, they took us to a bus, they took us to an airport in Seattle, and they said, 'All right, eyes forward, just march straight into the airport and don't say a thing.' There were people screaming at us, and spitting at us, 'Baby killers' -- that type of thing. I don't know if it was the height of the protest, but it was pretty close. Everybody was mad at us. They wanted to get us out, but we didn't want to be there. The greetings weren't very good. They couldn't stand us, being soldiers." He was one of the lucky ones, making it to Spring Training on March 1 that same year. Many battled mental and physical issues that never went away, and many of them were at the V.A. facility that Jones and others visited on Sunday, wearing that white Rangers jerseys. Also in attendance was Meg Vaillancourt, senior vice president for the Red Sox. She was speaking about the impact that the Red Sox have made with their MGH Home Base Program, a new initiative jointly started by the club and a renowned Harvard teaching hospital, jump-started by Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. The program has four components. It seeks to provide nearly free and confidential clinical care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury; support services for families of veterans with these two injuries; research into better diagnostics, treatment and prevention of these injuries; and community education to better help support veterans returning home with the two so called "signature wounds" of this war. Using the power of the Red Sox brand in New England and the pro sports team's association with images of health and teamwork, the Home Base Program also engages Red Sox players, ballpark and TV messaging and its communications with a broad national fan base known as Red Sox Nation to reduce the unfair stigma that unfairly inhibits veterans from seeking the care they need and have earned. "I'm down here in Texas to say that I'm so happy and proud that Major League Baseball chose to honor our veterans this way," she said. "When we won in 2004 and 2007, both times we went to visit Walter Reed [Hospital]. The second time we went there, there were a number of veterans who were recovering who sent their parents up and said, 'We'd like to get something signed, but he's too embarrassed to get something signed himself.' We talked to the medical professionals there, and they said, 'We're really good at dealing with amputations and physical injuries, where we really need the help are these two mental injuries, which would be the brain injury that happens with so many IEDs, and PTSD given that so many are going multiple time and multiple deployments. We decided that was a big task for a baseball team to take on, but we felt that was really important. We partnered with Mass General, and now we are serving over 100 veterans and more families." Vaillancourt's hope is that other clubs will be able to take similar steps.
"We want to create a playbook that we can share with all the other teams," she said. "There are great community relations and great foundations. Every team has that and could get involved. Our hope is to be the miner's canary and share that playbook and they can improve it."What is the message of the Welcome Back Veterans for Game 4? Vaillancourt said, "They can donate to WelcomeBackVeterans.org, no matter where they are, and to HomeBaseProgram.org. But to me, what is really the message is that there is a need, and we are going to work on this together. We're a baseball team, and we're a baseball league. We're taking on this big, important challenge -- and surely those of you can find a way to take it on yourself. Either through fundraising, through visiting, through becoming better informed yourself. There's a need for veteran service advocates who can go help those with TBI. That comes with being exposed to multiple explosions of IEDs. Sometimes they need help with their legal affairs. Sometimes they need help with filling out forms and with employment. There's a lot people can do. "I think that by modeling this, and by the Rangers being here today and Major League Baseball stepping up and saying, 'This is our problem, too, it tells all of those veterans who served that it's not just a 'Hey, thank you very much, we're going to put a yellow ribbon on the back of our car.' We're going to do something about it; we're going to take on this serious challenge." One significant development has been the addition of Entertainment Industry Foundation to the mix. EIF is a force behind Stand Up To Cancer, the initiative backed by MLB to help dream team scientists find breakthroughs, and SU2C co-founder Rusty Robertson was at the Sunday morning event just as she was at the SU2C Children's Hospital visit the day of Game 1. Robertson is the mother of a special-forces soldier herself. The strength that EIF, led by CEO Lisa Paulsen, has brought to SU2C through awareness campaigning and fundraising will be increasingly prevalent with Welcome Back Veterans. "The Entertainment Industry Foundation was actually founded by Samuel Goldwyn during World War II to engage all of the celebrities, to do those short reels, which we now call public service announcements, and use the power of the musicians, the actors and the artists, in order to stand up and bring America together," Robertson said. "Then you would show all of those PSIs on short reels right before the movie would start at theaters. This again is an opportunity for the Entertainment Industry Foundation to engage the public and let them know that we are all in war. It is not just the families, but all of us have to realize that just as when a person in the family gets cancer, the entire family gets cancer, and when a person joins the military, the entire family joins the military. "We have been fortunate with Major League Baseball to engage the public in both trying to find therapies and making people longer with cancer, and now we are able to do this through Welcome Back Veterans. It is my job, and all of our jobs on the Entertainment Industry Foundation side, to do something profound. MLB is front and center in this." Campbell said that "reintegration is difficult" but that there is snowballing progress in taking proactive measures to help make it a tenable one for returning military and their families. "What we all have to do is work really hard at coming up with innovative ways to reintegrate service members and their families back into society," he said. "That isn't easy when 99 percent of the population -- although they feel very strongly about the service members, very supportive -- are not involved. So it's up to us to really create that level of understanding where they now know what they need to do. We're working at it. It's not an easy process. I think it has to start with the communities. Admiral Mullen has a program called Sea of Goodwill, trying to crystallize and excite each community around this country, and that's where it's going to happen. We're always trying to figure out different ways to get communities involved and to understand the value of these service members. "It's not just about, 'Oh, too bad' and 'They deserve it.' These young men and women are remarkable. They've got skills that go far behind war fighting. They have done incredible things. We want to capture that if we want to compete. I'm a businessman. I think about competing globally. If you want to compete against EU and China and India, you have to use every asset, every arrow in the quiver. We've got to get these young men and women into the workplace, into communities, into organizations, into educational institutions. What I refer to as the 'Vet Effect' -- you get that DNA into these organizations, and it will fundamentally change them and make them better."