September 20, 2011
When it comes to the plastic tubs that hold mail in the clubhouse, major league ballplayers usually know what to expect: Autograph requests for cards and pictures, pieces of fan-made art varying in quality and the occasional talisman meant to end a slump or heal an injury.
But what Florida Marlins pitcher Chris Hatcher(notes) opened before a recent game caught him off guard, reports the Palm Beach Post. Inside a package that arrived from Camp Buehring in Kuwait was an American flag and a picture of a smiling boy holding a baseball. A letter from Sgt. Joseph Hjelmstad of Minnesota accompanied both items, explaining that the package was a thank-you gift for Hatcher's actions back in July.
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That was when Hjelmstad took his son Joey to a Marlins-Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Hatcher and Hjelmstad struck up a conversation about Hjelmstad's continuing military duty and ended it by tossing Joey a baseball — the same one that was in the picture Hatcher received. Two months later and back on patrol in the Middle East, Hjelmstad wanted to make sure that Hatcher's actions did not go unappreciated.
The flag came with a certificate of authenticity that said it had been taken on patrol covering 780 miles in Iraq from Aug. 27-30 with stopovers at three different U.S. military bases.
"I remember him giving me the rundown [at the game]," Hatcher said. "He told me he was about to get sent back over. I said 'Are you serious? I've heard that before.' He said, 'When you asked it showed you actually cared about the troops.' So, I flipped his son a ball. Then this (package) showed up today.
"Pretty nice gesture on his part."
We'll say. And it also was nice on Hatcher's part to take time to visit with the Hjelmstads before that game in Chicago. In some of the correspondence I've had with the great military members who read the Stew overseas, they always mention that baseball is one of their great ties to feeling like they're back at home. That one soldier has the opportunity to strengthen that bond with one interested and caring ballplayer really makes me feel good about the sport.
Our best BLS wishes to both men.
Big BLS H/N: Larry Brown Sports
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