(Photo courtesy of Neal Packanik)

Ohio baseball team gives back to veterans

Players from the Strongsville (Ohio) Dirtbags American Legion Baseball team give back year-round to the veterans who served their country and made Legion baseball possible. Many of the young men serve meals at posts and exchange their gloves for yard tools in an effort to help veterans with outdoor chores. But earlier this summer, the players decided to give back to veterans as a team, and succeeded in doing so during their annual fundraising picnic.

The Strongsville Dirtbags donated $500 of their picnic proceeds to Wags 4 Warriors — a nonprofit organization based in Brecksville, Ohio, that connects service dogs with returning war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress or a traumatic brain injury.

"To see the young men of the (Strongsville) Dirtbags step up and want to help the veterans meant the world to us," said Frank DeLorenz, founder of Wags 4 Warriors. "Every single player came up to the veterans and service dog teams that were there that day to tell them thank you and to ask more about a service dog and what they do for a veteran with PTSD and TBI. The players made us feel special that day!"

The Legion ball team is sponsored by Strongsville Post 795 and the Albert E. Baesel Legion Post 91 in Berea, Ohio, and has been hosting a picnic for the past three years. The picnic is a way to raise funds for travels to Legion tournaments, to build relationships with veterans, and to encourage community members to support their local Legion baseball program.

"We encourage the players to communicate with veterans and help out with needs they may have; it’s part of our program," said Neal Packanik, Strongsville team manager. "Our kids enjoy it, they expect it, and they take it and run with hit. They feel like it separates them from what other kids are doing."

The picnic recently took place during a doubleheader and was an all-you-can-eat event for $15 per person. Parents of the players made arrangements with local restaurants for food donations, and took it upon themselves to cook and serve the food.

Meanwhile, Wags 4 Warriors and Berea Post 91 showed their appreciation to the Strongsville Dirtbags’ players by sponsoring new baseball jerseys. However, it’s not the players’ last names that are seen from the baseball diamond — it’s the names of nearby fallen heroes and wounded warriors.

"A lot of teams have their names on the back, and we like the fact that our guys can feel good about representing someone that fought for our country," Packanik said "It’s another teaching point in today’s society that we are playing for something a little bit bigger."

A handout explaining who the jerseys represent is given to press box officials and the opposing team’s coaches. This eliminates any confusion caused from the discrepancy in the player lineup to the names on the jerseys.

"This is their uniform and so many fans, umpires and coaches comment on how appreciative they are of the gesture. It’s a conversation piece," Packanik said.