World Champion Red Sox Visit Wounded Troops at Walter Reed
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 3, 2005 In the typical glare of publicity that surrounds professional athletes and presidents, baseball's world champion Boston Red Sox were President Bush's guests March 2 at the White House.
Army Pfc. Paul Skarinka of Whitman, Mass., poses with Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and the World Series trophy during a March 2 visit by baseballs reigning world champions to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Skarinka, a lifelong Red Sox fan, said he drove his hospital roommates crazy during the teams postseason run to its first world title since 1918. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But before going to the airport to fly back to the team's Fort Myers, Fla., spring training home, the Red Sox traveled below the radar for a low-key visit to wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
Army Pfc. Paul Skarinka of Whitman, Mass., suffered a compound open fracture of his left leg, a left hip wound and nerve damage to both arms in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood on Sept. 13, 2004, while serving with the 1st Cavalry Division's C Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. He was hospitalized at Walter Reed while the Red Sox made their way to the team's first world championship since 1918.
"I kept scaring the hell out of my roommates because I was yelling so much," the 25-year-old chemical warfare specialist said with a laugh. "The nurses could hear me down the hall."
Emotions were high throughout the postseason, he explained, because the team had flirted with greatness time and again, only to fall short, usually in devastating fashion. "I was waiting for something bad to happen," he said. "History repeats itself. When they were down to the Yankees three games to none (in the American League Championship Series), I just said, 'Oh, no, not again!' It sounds bad saying it, but it's the truth."
The meeting room was full of brave men, but probably none as brave as Army Spc. Manuel Moquete. He showed up wearing the cap of the archrival New York Yankees. "A colonel stopped me and said, 'I don't know if they'll let you in there with that hat,'" he said with a smile. "But it can't be worse than coming back from Iraq."
Moquete was two weeks away from the end of his one-year tour in Iraq when he was wounded by a car bomb in Tikrit. "I go to all the hot spots," joked the New York City native. "I go to Tikrit sometimes, and sometimes I come here to the Boston Red Sox." His tie to the team could be that he went to the same high school as Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez in the city's Washington Heights neighborhood.
One patient, a Milton, Mass., native, missed a portion of the visit. He was just waking up after surgery when his wife, Gina, and best friend, Tony Viano, excitedly told him the Red Sox were visiting.
"I told the nurses they'd better hurry up," said Army 1st Lt. Philip Dow, who was wounded by a car bomb southwest of Baghdad while serving in Iraq with D Company, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He said he spoke with many of the players and found them "very down to earth."
"It's amazing," Dow said from beneath a well-worn Red Sox cap. "Here were these superstars saying it's an honor to meet me."
The bonding was total. Interspersed with laughter and baseball banter, the Red Sox players, coaches and front-office staff listened to the soldiers' stories with rapt attention and growing admiration. "These are my heroes," right fielder Trot Nixon said. "These guys go over and protect my very freedom on a daily basis, and they don't even know who I am."
Relief pitcher Alan Embree echoed Nixon's sentiments about the troops. "They're the reason why we get to do what we do," he said. His empathy for the troops has a family tie, Embree added, noting he has a cousin now serving in Iraq.
Both players said they especially were impressed by the positive attitude they noticed in all the wounded troops they spoke with. "I'm sure they have their difficult times, and I couldn't imagine what they've been through (being wounded) in Iraq or Afghanistan," Nixon said.
"They did it for me, they did it for Alan, they did it for the next guy, and that's something special," he said. "That's why I hold our American military men and women in such high regard for what they do."
Catcher and team captain Jason Varitek said for him, visiting the wounded troops was "about as humbling a thing as you can do."
"We deal with a game; they deal with life," he said. "That's the biggest thing that comes to mind - how much I appreciate what they do for us. They fight for our country and do the things asked of them by our country, and what we do is on such a small scale compared to what they do."