By Alex Byington
Fort Hood Herald
As a starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers, Tommy Hunter makes his living playing a game he grew up loving as a child.
Entering his second season in the majors, the 23-year-old right-hander is still learning what it's like to be a big leaguer. But thanks to a visit with the Warrior Transition Brigade soldiers at Fort Hood, he's starting his career with a little perspective.
"That got a little deep," Hunter said, describing a story one woman told about losing her son in a helicopter accident over Iraq. "It was one of those things where sometimes you take for granted things that are given to you, things that you're blessed with, and it's a real humbling experience."
Group met wounded soldiers
Joined by up-and-coming Texas catchers Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, along with bullpen coach Andy Hawkins and team radio broadcaster Eric Nadel, Hunter was part of a small contingent on the Rangers Winter Caravan.
The group signed autographs and met with soldiers Monday who have suffered injury or illness while serving as a member of the U.S. Army. The caravan also made stops in Waco and at the Academy Sports + Outdoors store in Killeen.
But it was hearing the stories of the injured servicemen and women that ultimately had the biggest impact on Hunter and his teammates.
"(It was) especially (emotional) listening to those people and the things they've gone through, just to give me the opportunity or the right to go out and throw a baseball, give me the right to go out there and make people smile just because I show up at an event like this," Hunter continued. "That's when you sometimes do take it for granted and you just have to realize you're blessed and there are people that look up and look forward to you signing those autographs. And when it's explained like that, those few hundred autographs, they're not that bad."
While players can sometimes get caught up in the day-to-day activities of the grueling eight-month-long season, which begins in March with spring training and runs well into November, meeting with the soldiers was an eye-opening experience.
"You don't realize how much baseball means to other people, and from our perspective it's more of a job than anything else," Teagarden said. "But when you get to see the fans and how much they truly appreciate what we do and how much they support us, how much they want us to win, it sheds a different light on what we do."
Rangers glad to bring smiles
Two weeks before pitchers and catchers must report for early preparation for spring training, the Rangers who participated in the caravan were just happy to bring smiles to those who have given so much already.
"More than anything, the coolest thing about going there is getting to interact with the troops and the people that have been to Iraq recently and realize how much we mean to those guys," Teagarden said.
"They get to take a little time out of their day to come and shake our hands and interact. We have no idea what they do on a regular basis, but just to see their faces and meet some of the people that go to war for this country was an incredible experience."