By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Baseball Hall of Fame greats have got nothing on Josh Wege and his buddies!
Wege, a 24-year-old US Marine from Wisconsin, lost both of his legs while he was serving in the war in Afghanistan in 2009 when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb. But that isn’t stopping him from being a great softball player. Wege is a member of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team and will play in a special exhibition game against the Bay Ridge All-Stars, a group of bar league players, on July 12.
“Every single one of us on the team was wounded in a war and lost limbs. We play softball to spread a message of hope and inspiration. We do it to show people that even when you face adversity, you can come back,” Wege told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Wege was standing on his prosthetic legs on a baseball field in Shore Road Park at a press conference on Thursday morning to announce the team’s upcoming visit to Brooklyn. It will be the team’s first visit to the borough.
He was joined by team manager David Van Sleet, volunteer Joe Bartumioli, state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) and Chip Cafiero, a Bay Ridge civic activist, at the press conference.
The game itself will take place on July 12 at a location that will be announced at a later date. Cafiero said organizers are hoping to put together a full weekend of activities for the visiting players to enjoy during their stay in Brooklyn.
Wege and his fellow softball players travel all around the country on weekends playing games against local softball teams so that they can raise money for Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team program, which supports not only the team’s travels but also softball camps that the team hosts for children who are amputees. Last year’s softball camp for child amputees took place at DisneyWorld in Florida.
The softball team members range in age from 22 to 52. "We have a guy who fought in the first Gulf War 22 years ago. He plays for us," Van Sleet said.
The team is on a great mission, Golden said. “They’re showing the sacrifices and resiliency of the military,” he said.
Golden, a member of the senate’s Homeland Security, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, predicted a big turnout of fans at the July 12 game. “This is going to be the game of the year. We will have thousands of people coming to see this. They will see what the American soldier can do,” he said.
Looking at Wege, Golden said, "Maybe Josh here will hit one over the fence!"
Like Golden, Cafiero expressed confidence that the game will draw a big crowd. “This is going to be a great event. Being such a patriotic community, I’m sure we’ll have great support,” he said.
Cafiero noted that Bay Ridge is home to the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Hamilton, the only active military post in New York City.
The mission of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team is to raise awareness, through exhibition softball games, of the sacrifices and resilience of the military and to highlight the players’ ability to rise above any challenge.
The players don’t want pity from the public because of lost limbs. They don’t need it, Bartumioli said. “They’re going to show you something that is going to blow you away. You’ll be amazed at how good they are,” he said.
“They persevered. They got a second chance to be an athlete again and they’re making to most of it,” Van Sleet said.
When asked which position Wege plays on the team, Van Sleet smiled and said, “Any position he wants. He’s one of out best, one of our original guys.”
The team was formed three years ago. While the players enjoy entertaining the fans at games, the tight bond the teammates share is also good for morale, Wege said.
“It’s a kind of therapy for me,” Wege told the Eagle. “You can talk to a shrink, and it helps, but it’s not the same as talking to someone who went through what you went through. We all had the experience of being in a hospital bed, looking down, and seeing that a part of our body is not there anymore. We help each other."