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MLB dignitaries show appreciation for veterans

SAN View Full Game Coverage FRANCISCO -- Will Clark had never met Denise Brant before, but they were like old friends.

"How are you doing?" Will the Thrill asked her.

"I'm better now," she replied with a smile.

Brant is an Air Force veteran who was in the seventh room that the Giants legend visited Thursday morning at the San Francisco V.A. Medical Center, along with Commissioner Bud Selig, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman and Giants president Larry Baer.

A hospital administrator said her reason for being in the facility is not public information. It doesn't matter. What mattered is that on the day of Game 2 at the 108th World Series, the attention was shared between a field at AT&T Park and the subject of military veterans and their families.

Major League Baseball dedicated Game 1 to the fight against cancer, and Game 2 is dedicated to Welcome Back Veterans. For Game 3, MLB will support youth, especially those in underserved communities, with programs including Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Breaking Barriers, and Game 4 will celebrate community service with a focus on Habitat for Humanity.

"You know what, it's absolutely amazing," said Clark, now a Giants special assistant, still No. 22 around here. "The people who are here are the reason we have our freedoms and liberties. For a guy like me to give a little something back, believe me, it touches my heart deeply.

"They're appreciative that we're here, but at the same time, we're appreciative of their service and dedication to this country. Just to come and spend a few minutes, hopefully it brightens their day. I know it makes me feel good deep down inside. These ladies and gentlemen are all baseball fans, and we're trying to get them to follow the Giants, too."

Brant and Clark caught up on the past couple of decades, trading stories about baseball, stories about kids. She was his fan then, and she may be an even bigger fan now.

The dignitaries went from room to room on the second floor, walking in and handing a goodie bag to each patient, some of them heavily bandaged.

"It's really emotional," Selig said. "You walk from room to room and see how these people have given so much in their lives in so many different ways ... for us. I'm grateful to be here, the gratitude is on my part.

"Today is a day we're honoring veterans, and these are people who have done so much for this country, who have given so much for us. We started four years ago, and we have increased our participation along the way. For me, it's just a meaningful experience, to come and say, 'Thank you.' We have been doing this all over the country, and we are going to intensify it.

"Baseball is a social institution, I really believe that. Some of the things I'm most proud of, for instance, yesterday with Stand Up To Cancer. It's something we started with them, and now it's grown nationwide, they are doing magnificent research for cancer. We have veterans on this day. There are so many people who have given so much in this country, and we felt had not really been given the attention that they deserve, the gratitude."

Perry pitched for the Giants from 1962-71 during a 22-year big league career. He was so at ease with the visits, walking up to a bedside and typically saying, "How you doin', buddy?"

"It's wonderful," he said. "In '69, I was very fortunate to go out and visit our hospital during the Vietnam War. It was so rewarding for me. You can talk to those guys and they don't want you to leave. Seeing the same guys in the next bed. I'm so happy I could come back today. It's very special."

Jeff Joseph, the acting associate director of the V.A. Medical Center, was in the Coast Guard during Vietnam and he said the visit by the dignitaries was unforgettable. Not only to those patients in the roughly seven rooms that were opened up on the second floor wing, but also to the entire staff at the facility, many of whom were doctors and nurses posing for pictures.

"I was in the Vietnam era, so I experienced the other side of that coin," he said. "It really warms the heart to see people take the time out to come visit veterans. Some of the people here are from that era. It's really a big deal that they took time out of their day in the World Series to come here.

"They light up. They could have been, five hours before, not feeling well. The hospital is not the best place to be. Somebody comes in who is of this level, and they want to spend some time with you, whether it's two or three minutes a day, they're going to remember that the rest of their time here."

Launched in 2008 by MLB and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Welcome Back Veterans has awarded more than $13 million in grants to non-profit agencies targeting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' and their families' greatest needs, focusing on treatment and research of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Clark said he loves MLB's now-annual campaign of dedicating a community initiative to each of the first four games of the Fall Classic, leaving a tangible imprint on the World Series cities.

"They should dedicate the community themes," he said. "Yesterday we did the Stand Up To Cancer out there at the ballpark, and then today we're doing the vet visit here. Definitely baseball needs to give back to the community as much as they receive."