Nats coaches, celebrities, Wounded Warriors play ball

WASHINGTON – Washington Nationals fans who stuck around Nats Park after the team’s 11-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday were treated to a second game.

The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) was joined by celebrities and members of the Nationals coaching and broadcasting teams for the third annual Wounded Warrior Celebrity Softball Classic (WWCSC).

“It’s really inspirational to be around these wounded warriors, to hear their stories and to recognize them on this level, it’s amazing to be a part of,” says Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who played on the blue team.

The world-class swimmer admits she’s a novice when it comes to softball.

“[I played] just a little bit with a NERF ball in sixth grade. I’m used to the water a little more, so we’ll see what I can do,” she says.

One of Ledecky’s teammates was U.S. Marine Cpl. Zach Briseno.

“It’s such a blessing for me to be here at all to help spread the message that a life without a limb is limitless,” he says.

Briseno lost both of his legs in Iraq on Nov. 29, 2007, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). But Briseno was walking again after just three months.

“My unit was still in Iraq, so I told my doctors I don’t care what I’m going through … pain or whatever, I’m going to be walking when they come home,” he says.

Briseno’s prosthetic legs have claws and antlers on them in the design of his favorite baseball team, the Texas Rangers. He even got a couple of players to sign them.

Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the wounded warriors exemplify the spirit of the U.S. military.

“These guys understand that ability overcomes disability, and they live it each and every day, not just when they’re playing softball but when they wake up in the morning,” Winnefeld says.

For “House of Cards” actress Sakina Jaffrey, the event was personal. Her aunt was an amputee and wore a prosthetic leg.

“I got this invitation and I said, ‘Wait, these guys are doing incredible stuff,’ and if you spend two minutes with them … they’re just the most joyous bunch of guys, but if you talk to them for a little bit, it wasn’t always that way,” she says.

Her teammate was Greg Reynolds, a U.S. Army staff sergeant who did two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. But he didn’t lose his left arm in combat. Before his second tour, Reynolds was in an accident in which he says a driver crossed into his lane while he was riding his motorcycle.

He’s played in all three WWCSC games — as an outfielder no less — and he’s got his right-arm routine down to a science.

“What I do is I catch the ball, flip the ball up out of my glove, throw the glove, catch the ball in mid-air and fire it in — if you blink you’ll miss it,” Reynolds says.

He says it was an adjustment getting used to catching with the same right arm he used to throw with, but he’s well past that now.

“The only obstacle I had to overcome was learning to catch with the opposite hand and also swinging with one arm. But with the right attitude, anything is possible,” Reynolds says.

The WWAST only plays able-bodied teams. This was the first year wounded warriors played on both the white and blue teams.

The white team won this year’s matchup 10-9 on a walk-off double by Nationals radio announcer Dave Jageler.

Nationals color commentator F.P. Santangelo put the day in perspective.

“Everybody sits here and they cheer for Jason Werth, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg and it’s understandable, but these guys are the true heroes,” he says.

“Bryce, Stephen and Jason Werth have a bad day, they come back tomorrow. These guys have a bad day, they don’t. And, we all here in D.C. and the Nationals appreciate what these guys symbolize for our country so that I can talk about baseball and the guys in the clubhouse can play the game.”

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