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The Comeback Kids

The Wounded ­Warrior Amputee Softball Team proves it ain’t over yet

Nick Clark of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.

When soldier Saul Bosquez lost his left leg below the knee during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007, he discovered his game was not finished, just delayed.
    “My great grandpa lost fingers in a tractor accident, but I didn’t know anyone that had been injured like I had,” Bosquez told Bay Weekly.
    In high school, the 28-year-old had earned nine varsity letters in swimming, football and baseball, so he feared the loss of a limb might cramp his style. When he arrived at Walter Reed for treatment, he realized he had been granted extra innings.
    One month after being fitted with a prosthetic leg, he was walking without a limp. At two months, he was running.
    Mobility was Bosquez’s first goal. Next, he wanted to compete.
    David Van Sleet, who worked with wounded veterans and organized wheelchair sports, opened that door.
    “I’m an army veteran. I’ve been in the field. I’ve been a softball player and a coach,” explained Van Sleet. “So I decided softball was a good way to get these guys motivated.”    
    In March of 2011, he used a federal grant to organize the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. Van Sleet reached out to military rehab centers across the country to find veteran amputees who wanted to play ball. Around 250 men tried out. Fifteen, including third basemen Bosquez, made the cut.
    Their game may look different — players sprint to base on prosthetic limbs, bat with one arm and field with one hand — but play is intensely competitive. So intense, in fact, that Bosquez has broken two prosthetics during games.
    “My prosthesis is geared toward people who are athletic. It gives a bit of ankle rotation, which helps when I plant my left leg to throw or hit,” Bosquez explained. “It’s carbon fiber so it’s really hard to break, but it can happen.”
    The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team has played 55 cities in 18 states, challenging firefighter leagues, police leagues and military teams. Some of those teams have made the mistake of underestimating the competition.
    “When we first take the field, people are a little bit concerned about these young guys and what happened to them,” Van Sleet said. “But when they start to see them play the game, we’ll make the fans say wow look at these guys!”
    The strategy is a winning one. The team holds a respectable 69 and 35 record. Now the players hope to inspire others with physical impairments. Often, they invite local amputee kids to baseball clinics and camps to show them how much is possible.

See for Yourself
    On June 1, Bosquez and the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team compete against a team of NFL athletes at Bowie Baysox Prince George’s Stadium. The game benefits The Wounded Warrior Project, The Yellow Ribbon Fund and the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.
    Hosted by Washington Redskins Josh Morgan and Philadelpha Eagles DeSean Jackson, this charity event brings together some of the most talented athletes in football. The NFL team features Raven Torrey Smith; E.J. Biggers, Darrel Young, Fred Davis and Chris Wilson from the Redskins; Giant Marvin Austin; Jet Bret Lockett; Eagle Arrelious Benn; the sixth pick of the NFL draft, Tavon Wilson; and Detroit Lion Terrence Austin.
    “It’s a huge event for our area,” said Torrey Pocock, the event’s producer. He’s eager to raise at least $50,000 for the charities and bring new fans to the ballpark. “Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics, the company responsible for fitting wounded vets at Walter Reed, is our sponsor. They want to show the public how far prosthetics have advanced and the talent of these men,” he said.
    “It’s Military Appreciation month, and what better way to show appreciation than to help raise funds for Wounded Warrior organizations?” said Redskins cornerback E.J. Biggers, who’s hoping to play outfield for the game.
    The NFL team is bigger, stronger and faster than the Wounded Warriors, but they are playing a new sport without practice. Who will triumph June 1, Team David or Team Goliath?
    Bosquez, a sports super fan, isn’t letting his admiration of the opposing team cloud his competitive edge.
    NFL players “have strength and speed on us,” he said. “We know the game and we’re committed, so I think that will help us in the end.”

June 1 at 7pm at Prince George’s Stadium, Bowie. $20/ticket; $55/VIP autograph signing: 301-464-4865; www.baysox.com.