America Supports You: Pitchers Throw 'Strikeouts for Troops'
By David Bahr
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 28, 2005 Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito has decided to support America's troops by helping to make wounded servicemembers a bit more comfortable while they recover.
In April, Zito launched "Strikeouts for Troops," a national organization that provides funds for many home comforts soldiers may be missing during their stay in hospitals. These comforts include entertainment, meals, clothing -- many soldiers arrive with only the clothes on their back -- and travel and lodging expenses for their families.
"I was talking to my family and really wanted to do something for our troops, who throughout our history have fought to keep us free," Zito said.
For every strikeout Zito and other participating pitchers record, a $100 donation goes to Strikeouts for Troops. In less than three months, the organization has raised more than $30,000. The organization also accepts donations from the public through its Web site.
Zito's goodwill gesture has caught the attention of many of his pitching colleagues around the league, who have lent their support to the organization. The list of pitchers taking part includes Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox, C.C. Sabathia and Matt Miller of the Cleveland Indians and Tim Hudson of the Atlanta Braves. One late addition to the Strikeouts for Troops pitching staff is Chad Cordero of the Washington Nationals, who joined June 8.
Cordero, whose father served in Army in Vietnam, said he jumped at Zito's invitation to help with the effort.
"It's a great thing, a chance to help, an opportunity to give back to (the troops)," he said. Though he hasn't yet been able to visit with troops recuperating in the hospital, Cordero said he was able to meet with some wounded servicemembers during a recent home game against Oakland. He said getting to meet and thank the heroes was "really neat."
Zito, on the other hand, has had opportunities to visit wounded troops in military hospitals and thank them in person for their service. He said the troops were eager to talk about baseball, while he was more interested in hearing about them -- "where they live, their family, what they want to do with their life, and how they got hurt," the American League's 2002 Cy Young Award winner said.
While chatting in the Mologne House hotel on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center here with Army Spc. Mark Gonthier, Zito discovered that Gonthier had been hit with a piece of shrapnel, losing his hearing in an ear and adversely affecting his balance. That day, Gonthier was wearing the green "Support the Troops" wristband he had been wearing when he was hit, and he offered it to Zito. Honored to accept it, Zito said, he has never parted with the band.
"I wear that band every day, and I never take it off," he said. "I even wear it when I'm pitching."
An umpire once asked him to take it off. "So I put it in my pocket," he said with a smile, "but it was still with me!"
Zito said he is inspired by the troops' attitudes as they deal with the challenges of recovering from injuries. "I was most touched by their spirit, and actually felt uplifted by their can-do attitude," he said.
Strikeouts for Troops is growing almost as fast as Zito and others can mow down hitters. In fact, it's expanded to include players from other positions.
The level of interest has grown so fast that the organization has been able to create opportunities for them to contribute also, Zito said. The organization hopes to have at least one position player on every team pitching or hitting for the troops, he added. So far, Zito has been joined by Oakland A's teammates Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Mark Kotsay, Eric Chavez, Eric Byrnes, Jason Kendall, Nick Swisher and Mark Ellis.
"Strikeouts for Troops is about showing support and honor to our men and women in the military. I want them to know we care and they are not forgotten," Zito said. "They are really our heroes."
(David Bahr is a summer intern working for America Supports You.)