Sun City ball players salute Wounded Warriors in softball match-up

Cold temperatures and darkening clouds could not keep Sun City Summerlin residents away from the ball field Nov. 10. At least 250 were on hand when the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team arrived for a game against the community’s men’s softball club.

Even before the start time, people lined the fence, hanging their arms over the top to watch. Many filled the metal bleachers, the prepared ones sitting on stadium cushions.

Everyone dressed for the weather, and baseball caps were the fashion accessory of the day. Newly re-elected Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown threw out the first pitch.

"I wanted to be out here," he said after stepping off the mound. "I just talked to Matt, No. 12, who served in the 82nd Airborne, and that’s where my son’s stationed right now, Fort Bragg … and Sun City has been in my ward or commission for 16 years. (I’ll do) anything up here to support them."

David Steinman, treasurer of the Sun City Summerlin Community Association Board of Directors, joked that retirees would work the Wounded Warriors hard to prepare them for their contest against the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Veterans Day.

"This community is loaded with veterans —- I mean loaded with veterans —- up here," Steinman said. "So there is a real connection here in this community. And the (Sun City) guys who play on the team, almost all of them are veterans, so this was a logical thing to do. It’s a good thing for the whole community."

The Wounded Warriors were in town in mid-October and played the Sun City Summerlin Men’s Softball Club. Although the Sun City club has about 80 members, not all of them could play, so about 30 got the chance to face the Wounded Warriors that time. It was awe-inspiring, said Sun City club member John Lytle.

"If you haven’t seen these guys on prostheses run and throw, one outfielder has one arm, and it’s absolutely incredible what he does with the ball," he said. "Everybody that’s seen it has been just … it’s an inspiration. Quite frankly, we’re honoring them because we have what we have today because of what they represent."

Lytle said more than 30 of the Sun City players are veterans, so they were given top priority if they wanted to play at the second matchup.

That there even was a second time was due to a request by the Wounded Warriors. The soldiers arranged with American Airlines to change their flights so they could be in Las Vegas one day early, specifically to play the retirees.

How did Tom Popek, president of the Sun City team, rate the Wounded Warriors, compared to clubs they face throughout the year?

"I’d consider them to be better, to be real honest with you," he said. "They’re in their 20s and 30s, and even though they’re handicapped, you sure don’t know it when you see them on the field. We consider it to be an honor to play against them."

The first game’s score was Wounded Warriors 26, Sun City 10. The second game was Wounded Warriors 16, Sun City 10.

The soldiers live all over the country, from states such as Massachusetts, Washington, Wisconsin and Florida, said Meghann Myers, Wounded Warriors spokeswoman. Myers said the Wounded Warriors play two to three times a month, primarily on weekends. Most of them have jobs or school during the week. Each weekend of play sees nine or 10 participants.

Playing against a team of retirees is not the norm, she said.

"They do a lot of fire departments and the cops, but an actual, designated senior guys’ team, very rarely," she said. "They really like this area, and these people have put on a pretty good show for them. And they love being in Vegas."

When they do events such as this, are they considered like the Globetrotters basketball team, where they almost always win?

"No, not necessarily," said Marine Lance Cpl. Matias Ferreira, who had been a machine gunner in the Marines and lost both legs to a rocket-propelled grenade. "We come just to play ball and pretty much send a message of inspiration and keep on striving forward. Everybody thinks we’re better than we are, just because (of) the media, but we’re just a group of guys who like to play ball and continue being athletes."

He said people come up to him to say that they, too, had served in the military.

"Veterans want to come out and thank us, just like we want to thank them for their service," Ferreira said. "It’s just a good time to be around that kind of camaraderie … It’s a lot of fun. A lot of people come up to enjoy the game. It wouldn’t be fun without a crowd."

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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