Voting is underway all month to determine 30 military veterans or active service members who will represent a Major League Baseball club and be honored in the Tribute for Heroes campaign during All-Star Week and on the field at the start of the 84th Midsummer Classic on July 16 at Citi Field.
The choices have been narrowed to 90, three per club. They account for 177 total awards received, including a Medal of Honor, Marine of the Year, 20 Purple Hearts and 13 Bronze stars. There are three World War II vets, 35 who have done tours in Afghanistan and 31 who have done tours in Iraq.
There is a veteran who was given a three percent chance to live, another who was rescued from a body bag by a nurse and an amputee who has completed 32 triathlons.
"I read the first three and I was like, 'I'm supposed to narrow this down?'" said Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who grew up in the shadow of the U.S. Army's Fort Carson installation in Colorado, plays these days in the Navy town of San Diego and was among a distinguished guest panel including MLB players who helped sort the long list and get it down to 90 candidates for fans.
"It's very difficult, because everybody you looked at, you feel like they deserved to receive that honor, to go to the All-Star Game and be on the field and all that stuff. It was tough. I just sat down with [wife] Casey, sort of reviewed everything, talked about all the accomplishments, what they've been through, what opportunities they have had in the past to get to do something like this. There is really no good way to do it, because they are all such worthy candidates."
The campaign is a national initiative that recognizes veterans and military service members and builds upon both the commitment of MLB and People magazine to honoring America's heroes, and you visit TriuteForHeroes.com to see the 90 candidates chosen from an initial list in the thousands.
"It is our privilege to honor the returning veterans and active military service members who risked and continue to risk their lives to protect our great nation," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Major League Baseball is proud to use the national stage of the Midsummer Classic to celebrate the courage and sacrifices made by our veterans and active military service members."
Along with MLB and People, the guest panel also included retired Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, alongside MLB players Justin Verlander of the Tigers, Nick Swisher of the Indians, Barry Zito of the Giants, Jonny Gomes of the Red Sox, Brad Ziegler of the D-backs, Craig Stammen of the Nationals and Headley.
The finalists include: a 23-year-old and a 92-year old, bookending World War II and Afghanistan; 14 currently serving; 38 who served in the Army, 18 Air Force members, 17 Marines, 15 Navy and three in the Coast Guard (some finalists served in multiple branches); and a gold medalist in the Paralympics.
"This was just the first step, too -- narrow it down from seven or eight, I think, to three," Headley said. "And it was almost impossible."
The Tribute For Heroes campaign supports Welcome Back Veterans, an initiative of MLB and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which addresses the needs of veterans after they return from service. MLB has committed more than $23 million for grants to hospitals and clinics that provide post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment to veterans and their families in a public/private partnership with "Centers of Excellence" at university hospitals throughout the country.
Welcome Back Veterans funds programs at University of Michigan, Rush University Medical Center, Duke University, Emory University, Weill Cornell in New York City, UCLA and the Red Sox's Home Base Program at Mass General Hospital in Boston. These institutions are developing new programs and strategies to improve the quality, quantity and access to PTSD and TBI treatment for veterans, particularly those returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Visit WelcomeBackVeterans.org to donate to that fund or for more information on available services.
As part of its 2013 charity initiative, "People First: Help America's Veterans," the magazine is partnering with Welcome Back Veterans and three other nonprofit organizations that are committed to providing assistance to military men and women, and will feature them in multiple stories throughout 2013. A Tribute for Heroes winner will be featured in the July 22 issue of People, which hits newsstands on July 12, the Friday of All-Star Week in New York.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. MLB.com reporter Corey Brock contributed to this story.