'Heroes' is Linebrink's tribute to vets
White Sox reliever gives returning troops VIP treatment
Clad in a camouflage-style T-shirt with the name "Scott Linebrink" affixed, James Wright busied himself soaking up the atmosphere of a White Sox batting practice at U.S. Cellular Field on a spring afternoon last season.
In between snaring autographs and gabbing with players, Wright, a Gulf War veteran, was nearly at a loss for words on what this experience at a ballpark meant to him and other members of the military, both active and retired.
"It gets their minds totally away from it," said Wright, a native of Gurnee, Ill. "It gets them focused on the things here at home and lets them know people here at home do support them and care about them. And appreciate what they did.
"This is everybody's dream, to walk onto this field and hang out with the players. Get to shake their hands, spend a little time with them and talk to them. Even the guys in Iraq right now doing their duty -- they even dream of this. This is the all-American sport."
Wright and Marine Cpl. James Vepley, who was wounded in Iraq, were the first in a series of guests of White Sox setup man Scott Linebrink. Linebrink has started "Scott's Heroes," in partnership with the Wounded Heroes vet-support organization, which gives two members of the Armed Forces the chance to get VIP treatment at one U.S. Cellular game each month.
"That's where it first came to my attention -- showing our patriotism and support for our troops," Linebrink said of his Padres days in San Diego, one of the country's biggest military towns. "Whenever we'd go to Washington, D.C., we'd visit Bethesda and Walter Reed [military hospitals] and visit some of the troops. That really put it in perspective for me.
"It really brings it home whenever you see these guys sitting in a hospital bed. They're 10 years younger than me, fresh out of high school. They have missing limbs and their lives are changed forever. You realize the sacrifices they made are for your benefit."
The vets interact with the Sox players during batting practice.
"For myself, it will be a chance to talk with them and tell them how much I appreciate their service," Linebrink said. "A lot of these guys come out, they're so in awe of us. They say what a great thing it is to be out there. We want them to know that they're our heroes. What we do out here really seems insignificant for the sacrifice they're making over there for us."
Linebrink's motivations are simple. There is no political statement involved. He is merely putting into action a sentiment that service men and women ought to be honored for their service and devotion when they come back.
"My focus is to give them thanks, give them a good time," Linebrink said. "For them to come out here and enjoy a game with their families, it makes it worthwhile for me. Have them come back, get away from the war, enjoy a good time at the ballpark."
The reliever's biggest challenge was visiting the hospitalized vets.
"It's definitely tough," Linebrink said. "I remember one guy we visited -- he had been in the hospital for three weeks. The week before we were there, his wife had given birth to their first child. Here he was, laid up in the hospital, wife had given birth in same hospital, and he can't even hold his new baby.
"When you put faces to these numbers [wounded and dead], that's when it really brings it home. That really opened my eyes that this is something real. Even though it's happening on the other side of the world, it's affecting families here. It's my small way of saying thanks to them."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.