Wounded Warriors the real stars in Softball Classic
WASHINGTON -- Josh Wege is a No. 2 hitter. A speed guy. He has been with his current team for more than 2 1/2 years, traveling to 27 states and 58 cities to play roughly 100 games a year.
He also happens to be a double-amputee.
A Marine Corps veteran and baseball fanatic, Wege is one of nearly two dozen members of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. The 23-year-old and his teammates tour the country playing exhibitions, celebrity games and competitive tournaments.
After the Nationals' 11-2 win over the Phillies Sunday afternoon, the Wounded Warriors played with Nationals' coaches, players' wives, broadcasters and assorted celebrities in the third annual Wounded Warrior Softball Classic.
Brian Dietzan of CBS' 'NCIS', Sakina Jaffrey of Netflix's 'House of Cards', Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky and NBC's Luke Russert were among the game's participants. But the real celebrities were veterans like Wege.
"It's pretty much a comeback story," said Wege, who hit an inside the park home run in Sunday's game. "That's what we are. We're coming back, going from the battlefield to the ballfield. That's what we do."
At the center of the Wounded Warriors program is general manager David Van Sleet, an avid softball player and Army veteran who spent 30 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs. During his time there, he regularly worked with prosthetics and saw the athleticism of injured soldiers. The idea to form a Wounded Warrior softball team came naturally.
"It's changed their lives. It's changed my life. It inspires people," Van Sleet said. "They've recovered and gone on. I can't say that's the case for all veterans and active duty soldiers, but for our guys, they've done a good turn."
The group consists of players from around the country, mostly Army and Marine Corps veterans. Van Sleet hand-picked the team, which played its first game in March 2011. Wege was among the original members.
Raised in Campbellsport, Wisc., Wege was a three-sport athlete in high school, though he was always particularly drawn to baseball. He enlisted as a Marine after his high school graduation in 2008 and was in Afghanistan by 2009. While there, he rolled over a 200-pound improvised explosive device in a light-armored vehicle. Wege lost both his legs below the knee.
"Yeah, it's a bad thing," Wege said. "But you look at the situation I'm in now, you make lemonade out of lemons. You look at the glass half-full or half-empty, however you want to do it."
When Wege heard about the Wounded Warrior softball team, he said he was one of the first people to sign up.
"The kid is a stud," Van Sleet said. "He can play any position on this softball field. Any position. He would've been something if he hadn't gotten hurt."
Less than five years after losing his legs, Wege counts himself as blessed. He travels the country year-round playing softball, exploring new cities and inspiring people. Like Major League baseball, the schedule can be a grind. But Wege loves every minute of it.
"You get back and all you really want to do is get your life back, and then you get opportunities like this to come out and play," Wege said. "We get a second chance to be athletes, and I definitely don't take that for granted."