Nats share 'humbling' experience on USO tour

January 8th, 2020

POWIDZ AIR BASE, Poland -- After the last show of this USO tour had ended Wednesday afternoon, as equipment was being packed away and a makeshift stage dismantled, and could not bring themselves to leave.


Afterwards, that was the word the two Washington Nationals used to describe the experience. So they lingered awhile longer in the shadow of a retired C-130 aircraft to make sure every last soldier had gotten a moment of their time and that every autograph had been signed, every selfie taken.

“I’ll tell you, this won’t be my last USO tour,” Eaton said. “They’ve touched our hearts. They put their lives on the line over here every single day. Hopefully, we were able to put a smile on their faces.”

That they did with a two-hour show that wrapped up a whirlwind three-day visit to visit American soldiers in Romania and Poland. This one ended with 500 or so soldiers gathered near the stage to stomp their feet and clap their hands for a show that included Barrett’s spot-on impression of Harry Caray, comedy sketches, mixed martial artists and country rock group LoCash.

They flew in Wednesday morning from Romania, went straight to lunch with soldiers, then spent an hour at a firing range watching Polish marksmen.

In Romania, there had been demonstrations of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and rides on Black Hawk helicopters. In between, there was time to talk and listen and say thanks.

“It’s a reminder that there are people back home waiting for us,” Pfc. Geovany Castillo of New Mexico said. “It’s nice to be remembered. These are people who have a lot going on in their lives, and to take time away from their families to see us, it’s great.”

For the soldiers, the USO shows allow them to show off a few of their skills and interrupt their usual workday with some laughter and music.

“This brings us a little bit more back to home,” said Pfc. Jared Fairchild of Ohio. “Every time we have an event like this where people come and perform, it lifts everyone’s spirits.”

Barrett used some of his time on stage to talk about his career journey that included two arm surgeries and 1,495 days between throwing pitches in Major League games.

“The doctors told me I’d never pitch again,” he said. “But I was determined to try, and I did make it back.”

Mostly, though, the day is for something much lighter.

“It’s humbling,” Barrett said. “It has been such an amazing journey to be able to give these men and women thanks and to tell them how much we appreciate what they do. We wouldn’t be able to play this great game without them, and it’s amazing.”

In the end, Barrett and Eaton did their sport proud. During meals, they bounced into chow halls and sat with groups of soldiers, telling them stories and listening to theirs. They engaged troops at all levels, making all of them feel like those few minutes were the most important of their day.

“What they do means so much to these young soldiers,” Staff Sgt. Dennis Troxell of Maine said. “It’s a great way to give back to the soldiers and show their appreciation. It’s also a lot of fun.”

On Thursday, Eaton will head to the Nationals' Spring Training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the start of a new baseball season. But what he saw and heard and felt this week made an impression.

“It’s hard to fathom signing your life away to help support the place where you grew up,” he said. “But generations before that signed up and put their lives on the line to help keep us safe. These young people are no different. These men and women are 19, 20, 21 years old and protecting us. We just want ‘em to know we appreciate ‘em.”