For fans who are passionate about baseball, the history of the game doesn't get much richer than at Boston's Fenway Park.

The great Babe Ruth got his professional start there before being sold to the rival New York Yankees. It's also been the home to legendary players like Johnny Peske, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice.

On Monday night, the ballpark hosted a group of modern-day heroes which few people would know by name.

The National Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is made up of veterans who have lost limbs after 9/11 during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These competitive, athletic veterans and active duty soldiers represent this nation's bravest and most inspirational heroes. Since first taking the field in March 2011, they have been touring the nation with their special brand of softball.

Team founder David Van Sleet said the current team is almost equally represented by Marines and Army players who served this country in both the Iraq and Afghanistan.

The team received a big boost in national exposure when it was featured in a segment on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

The Red Sox organization has an active track record in helping with veteran projects. Last May 4 it hosted a Run-Walk to Home Base to raise funds to help veterans and families coping with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. About 4,000 participated in that event, which featured a nine-kilometer run and a three-mile walk that started and finished at Fenway.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Coots II, a native of Pawtucket, R.I., ran that day in memory of his brother-in-law, Capt. Anthony Palermo Jr., who was killed in Iraq in 2007 by an improvised explosive device. He talked about his inspiration to do the run.

"It's important to do this run for me for remembrance," he told an interviewer, "not only for the ones we lost, but for the ones who still fight today, whether it be on a battlefield or at home with the memories and/or injuries."

Specialist Kim Belskis of the Massachusetts Army National Guard ran in the Home Base event for the fourth consecutive year. She also thought this was the best way to give back to those that are serving overseas. In her first race in 2010, she was thrilled at the opportunity to run in such an historic ballpark for the first time.

"I've never been able to actually touch the field at Fenway Park before, so it was a fantastic experience," she said.

But a bigger thrill for Belskis was seeing what the program has done for veterans and families.

"They do a lot for everybody," she said. "This is something that I could actually see myself doing for a very long time. When you join the military, you essentially join a family."

The Wounded Warrior Amputee squad was not the only special group on the Fenway field last Monday.

In the opposing dugout was a team comprised of individuals who also inspired us this year with their deeds. They were members of the Boston Police Department, Boston Fire Department, and Boston EMS who were the first responders at the April 15 Boston Marathon attacks.

Just a day before Monday's benefit game, old Fenway Park was rocking as fans watched their beloved Red Sox take on their division rivals, the New York Yankees. Professional players perform at an elite level which few persons ever attain but in our eyes they were just the warm-up act for the true American heroes who played on the Fenway field the next night - the Wounded Warrior Amputees.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com [1]