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Sweetest 16: Back from Afghanistan, soldier surprises daughter

Allie Pearce had an unforgettable 16th birthday Friday night at The Coliseum.

In Oakland to watch the A’s and Giants reprise the Bay Bridge Series, Pearce threw out the ceremonial first pitch and received a warm reception from the crowd as Jonny Gomes, Brandon Inge and Brian Fuentes approached with a custom No. 16 A’s jersey.

Yet before the trio reached her at home plate, Allie saw a man dressed in Army fatigues emerge from behind the yellow jerseys. It was her father, Sgt. Scott Pearce, returning from a six-month tour of duty in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“It’s the best birthday present that I could ever have,” Allie said. “I’m super happy.”

Pearce was deployed to Afghanistan in December and had been e-mailing with the A’s since January, making this a birthday present nearly six months in the making. After the family shared a moment at home plate, Gomes presented Allie with her custom jersey and deadpanned, “Here’s your jersey. It’s not as awesome as your dad.”

Residents of nearby Martinez in the East Bay, the Pearces are fans of both the A’s and the Giants -- so Friday’s contest served as a perfect setting for a reunion. Sgt. Pearce actually arrived back in the United States on Wednesday but had to lay low at a hotel near the Oakland airport to keep the surprise going.

For 48 hours, the Pearce family kept the big secret safe.

"Here’s your jersey. It’s not as awesome as your dad."
-- Jonny Gomes


”I asked my mom, ‘Who knew about this?’" Allie said. "She said, ‘Everyone. I’m surprised you didn’t find out.’”

The Pearce family shared the special moment with about 120 friends and family members, including Sgt. Pearce’s four younger brothers.

For Sgt. Pearce, the two days of waiting couldn’t go by soon enough. He tried to relieve some stress with a round of gold, but couldn’t stop thinking ahead to Friday night.

“I couldn’t even get a full night’s sleep," Sgt. Pearce said. "I woke up at two o’clock every morning. For six months, any time I would wake up and think of her and think of this, I was up for the rest of the night. I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this, but it was all worth it. Every hour I’ve lost.”

Sgt. Pearce is a self-described “baseball fanatic.” Meal time in Afghanistan is prime time for watching sports in the chow hall, and he recalled watching the A’s-Giants series in San Francisco earlier this season. For now, he’s looking forward to some home cooking and kicking his feet up to watch baseball.

The Army would have flown Sgt. Pearce anywhere in the world for his two-week vacation, and he chose to come back home for his daughter’s birthday. But he'll soon return to Afghanistan to complete his deployment, which is scheduled to end in November.

“She asked me three times on the field, ‘Are you going back? Are you going back? Are you going back?’” Sgt. Pearce said. “I just looked at her and I couldn’t even answer her. I couldn’t even tell her, ‘Yes, baby girl, I have to.’ But it’s better than her not seeing me at all.”

-- Alex Espinoza

Read More: Oakland Athletics