Clemens presents wheelchair to Army vet

June 2nd, 2021

HOUSTON -- When William Thomas found out he was going to receive a sorely needed wheelchair through the Wheelchairs for Warriors organization, he had no idea he’d get a chance to meet one of his heroes in the process. Thomas, a U.S. Army veteran, was presented with the new wheelchair prior to Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park by seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens.

“I’ve been a fan of his ever since I drew my first baseball card out of the pack and found his rookie card,” Thomas said. “I became a huge baseball fan after that time and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, if I could ever meet this guy one day, it would be amazing.’”

Thomas was wounded by a 250-pound improvised explosive device while serving on route clearance patrol in Afghanistan in 2011 and was nearly killed. He spent the next five years recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Thomas said he was eligible to receive a new wheelchair every four years through the Veterans Administration, but his previous wheelchair broke shortly after he received it.

“I’m a bigger guy,” he said. “The last wheelchair they tried to give me, it had plastic wheels and it feel apart the next day. There was nothing I could do. When I reached out to [Wheelchairs for Warriors], I asked if they could get me a sturdy-built wheelchair that would last me forever and they said, ‘Sure, we can help you with that.’”

Clemens was made aware of Thomas’ story through the Wheelchairs for Warriors organization and knew he wanted to help. He also presented Thomas a No. 22 signed Astros jersey.

“I couldn’t believe this man’s been hanging out and waiting around and needed a wheelchair for so long in this country that we live in,” Clemens said. “I was fired up knowing that he was an Astros fan. What a great day. I think he has an idea that we were going to get his wheelchair, but I don’t think he had an idea he was going to get a chance to meet me. So I signed up a ‘Rocketman’ jersey, and now he’s really an Astros fan.”

Clemens, who was supposed to pitch for the Yankees on Sept. 11, 2001, has long been a supporter of wounded veterans and the military.

“Because of men like William, I can go out on that mound and feel safe to do the work that I do and be a proud American,” he said. “Even with how things are going in our country, it’s getting better every day. We’re Americans, so we can overcome a lot. This man has overcome so much, and when I have an opportunity to talk to our military men and women, I always tell them, I played 24 years at the highest level and I consider myself a team player ... these are the ultimate team players, what these men and women do.”

Thomas met with reporters at Minute Maid Park sitting in the new wheelchair alongside Clemens, who patted him on the back a few times and gave him a high-five.

“I’m very happy that I’m here, I’m very happy that I’m alive, and I’m very happy that I can actually be sitting here today,” Thomas said. “It makes me so happy.”