And the Winners were … the Veterans!

Roy Hobbs Baseball

Veterans Pre Game Ceremony
Pre-Game ceremonies and presentation of the Veterans and Colors. The event raised more than $10,000 for and honored Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 84, which is located in Crestwood. – Photos courtesy of ChicagoLand Roy Hobbs Baseball.

The ChicagoLand Roy Hobbs League played an all-star game on August 11 in Ozinga Field, the home of a professional team, the Windy City ThunderBolts.

Several hundred fans showed up in the Frontier League Park in Crestwood, Ill. Score was kept. There were hits and presumably errors.

But the game was not about baseball. The event benefited and honored Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 84, which is located in Crestwood.

This was more than the typical Roy Hobbs game with more at stake than a win or loss or advancing to a championship game.

“I was nervous the night before,” said organizer Roger Laurella, a 2016 Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame inductee and president of the ChicagoLand League and co-chair for the benefit.

It took planning and organization to pull this off in a minor-league stadium on a summer Friday night. Players from 12 teams participated.

This wasn’t a typical setting for an adult amateur baseball game. Laurel estimated between 800 and 1,000 fans attended the event and he estimated about $10,000 was raised. He added that 100 percent of the funds raised go to veterans in need.

The Frontier League All-Star Game was played the following night and that event also benefited veterans. Laurella estimated about another $10,000 to $15,000 was raised from that game.

Laurella said about 24 vets were honored on the field and perhaps another 100 or so were in the stands.

The American heroes honored served mainly in Vietnam and more recent conflicts such as the Gulf War and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their disability issues ranged, according to the Laurella, from PTSD to loss of hearing to loss of limbs to the aftereffects of exposure to Agent Orange.

The honored vets on that special night included some with Roy Hobbs ties. The information presented here comes from a printed program that was provided at the game.

Army veteran Lou “Spike” Ziemba served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971 and is a Roy Hobbs player.

Another Roy Hobbs player and Army veteran at the event was Levi Triplett, who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968.

A current Roy Hobbs player and former Marine sergeant named Armando Aguilar was among those honored.

There were highly-decorated veterans recognized at the ballgame such as Army veteran Sonny Zdancewicz, who earned a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts in Vietnam.

The honorees included a former Marine gunnery sergeant named John Beeter, who served from 1968 to 1985. Beeter’s extraordinary list of hard-earned medals includes two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.

Autographed baseballs
Players autographed baseballs for Veteran honorees.

“I was in awe of those guys,” Laurella said.

One of “those guys” is veteran Roy Johnson, a member of DAV Chapter 84 who served from 1967 to 1970.

What branch of the military?

“The only one – Navy,” Johnson said.

The event, of course, benefited veterans of all branches. Johnson was touched by the effort put into organizing and staging the all-star game.

He was also favorably struck by the ability and heart of the Roy Hobbs players on the field.

“I was quite impressed with how those guys can hit and field and run, especially at their ages,” Johnson said. “They made errors but they’re not professionals.”

The focus for Johnson, though, was the effort put into organizing and operating such a benefit.

“I never expected what they did,” Johnson said.

What they did included staging an extravaganza that was more than a baseball game. There were singers, a veterans procession and a veterans recognition ceremony. Many local businesses sponsored the event.

Johnson, 76, added, “They went so far out of their way. It was just spectacular.”

The benefit will help veterans in need by paying rents or mortgages and other bills, according to Johnson

Former Chicago White Sox slugger Carlos May, a 75-year-old disabled vet himself, attended the event. May was injured in a Marine Reserves training exercise in 1969 and suffered a partial amputation of his right thumb yet went on to play in the majors until 1977.

Veterans Presentation
The presentation of honored veterans.

Johnson liked seeing a former member of the White Sox in attendance because he’s a lifelong fan of the team.

“I was born with a White Sox uniform on,” Johnson said. “The other team? Not so much. We never used their name in our house.”

But the names of the vets were spoken with reverence at the event.

Army veteran Rich Jaworowski, 78, is a member of DAV Chapter 84 and attended the all-star game. Little touches such as giving each veteran an autographed ball signed by game participants meant a great deal.

The focus of the evening, of course, was not autographs or a game. It was tribute to the vets and offering tangible help to those in need.

Of course, in charity events befitting disabled American veterans the score doesn’t matter.

“The game was secondary,” Laurella said.

But for the record, Laurella said the South All-stars beat the North All-Stars 18-11.

The true winners, of course, were the veterans.

And the United States of America.

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