By Gary Cameron
The night before I was to head to central New York state to cover the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team for a Memorial Day weekend story, I played a double-header on my own softball team.
As I slid into third base, the opponent’s third baseman’s knee, and my rib cage, met with enough force to make us both wince and hit the ground hard.
The next morning, as I packed for the three-day trip, the pain persisted to the point that it made me wonder how I was going to carry gear and work long days. My second thought was: “Gary, you are such a frigging wimp.” How could I worry about any personal pain while covering a softball team comprised of U.S. Army and Marine veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that have lost numerous limbs, gone through agonizing rehab, fought off mental demons, and yet play the game as hard as any team I have ever seen, with so much less?
Approaching the first practice session on a game day in Binghamton, New York, I immediately saw that these men were not interested in a pity party or a mere “feel good” effort. Team manager David Van Sleet, who also organizes the team’s operation and tours, barked out to every player, demanding hustle, 100% effort, and perfection- tough criticism and full encouragement were often in the same command.
Coach Bucky Weaver ran the team through countless drills, with lots of stress on outfield communication, hitting the cut-off man, and throwing to the right base. Sarcasm, insults and self-deprecating insults are all part of the team.