They wore spikes, not boots. They wore caps, not helmets. They carried bats and gloves, not rifles.
They played baseball on a freshly mowed field at City of Palms Park, a long way from Iraq or Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Specialist Josh Guevara paid to fly in from Germany on Friday to attend an open tryout, on Sunday he found himself in the on deck circle waiting to see one of the best sliders he will ever face. On Monday he will fly back to Germany. It happens just that quickly for the U.S. Military All-Stars. Whether it's the taking on the Pittsfield American Defenders from the New England Collegiate Baseball League later this summer, or the Boston Red Sox. If you can play..... you play.
To the Boston Red Sox organization, the score didn't matter. They were honored to host the U.S. Military All-Stars. Red Sox Manager, Terry Francona has a son serving in the Marine Corps and enjoyed speaking with SGT Isaac Rodriguez about the challenges that face his son.
Rodriguez, a Marine Corps sergeant who earned two Purple Hearts in Iraq was happy to be there.
"No sand," Rodriguez said. "No bullets."
And no IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.
That's how Rodriguez was wounded in Iraq. Twice. Those devices left Rodriguez with a perforated ear, a concussion and shrapnel in his legs.
This wasn't a typical opposing team for the Red Sox. And they knew it.
"We got a bunch of heroes out there," said Ron Johnson, who managed the Red Sox.
During the game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and pitching coach John Farrell watched from behind the backstop.
To the players on the field, the score mattered. Our troops and professional players are competitive, they must, to be successful. They can't just turn it on and off. Lucky for those in attendance. They were treated to being a part of something special and enjoyed some outstanding high-level talent.
Military hurler Lucas Ledbetter started for the U.S. Military All-Stars on Sunday, while former Boston College and New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie played solid defense behind him at second base.
Former Red Sox player, Brian Daubach, the team's manager, said some of the military guys can flat-out play.
"Just being around the military and seeing what they've done for our country, it's special," Daubach said.
The U.S. Military All-Stars gave up an early run on a couple of walks and an RBI single by top farm hand Lars Anderson who went 1 for 3 with an RBI single. The score stayed that way thanks to masterful pitching on both sides until the sixth.
"They are the best of the best in the armed forces," said Duquette, former Boston Red Sox, GM and the U.S. Military All-Stars' director of player development.
The U.S. Military All-Stars are not most certainly not beer-league softball players.
They're former professional and collegiate players who had to try out for the team. Nearly all of the players in Sunday's game have served numerous tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
One of those former collegiate players, a Boston native is Lt. (jg) Will Sheehan, an outfielder who played at the Naval Academy.
"It's an amazing opportunity to take a break from the actual fog of war and go back to the basics of just throwing and hitting a baseball," Sheehan said.
They have left the war but not the military. Their uniforms are unique full camouflage-themed made in the U.S. by Victory Custom Athletic. They are extremely popular with fans and feature historical references to American history blending names of events with numbers on the back of the jerseys. They resonate with history that captures the imagination: D-Day. Four Score & Seven. Gettysburg. Bulge. Lincoln. Pearl Harbor. Ground Zero. Kennedy. Roosevelt.
"They speak for themselves," Dan Duquette, the team's director of player development and a former Red Sox general manager, said of the uniform names.
"Our founder served at the World Trade Center. He wears Ground Zero."
The team's manager is former Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach. His advice to his team Sunday was simple.
"Swing hard in case you hit it," Daubach said.
Retired Lt. Commander Terry Allvord, founder of the U.S. Military All-Stars, gathered his players near the first base dugout before the game.
"It doesn't take talent to hustle," Terry Allvord told the players. "For over two centuries we have found ways to do more with less and WIN. Our philosophy is to Hustle, Think, WIN!" Allvord then showed his team the jersey of the first former player killed in action. He explained how that fallen Marine made it possible for them to be there today joining over 23,000 others who have earned the honor to wear the camouflage "USA" uniform. He told them everyone would get a chance and to play to win. As they broke the huddle, he had one last piece of advice, "Oh by the way, no one will be shooting at you today."
The All-Stars established in 1990 by Allvord, will celebrate it's 20th season with it's fifth "Red, White and Blue Tour" visiting over 40 states and 8 countries. "We go city to city," Duquette said. "We're the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. We don't play home games."
They didn't have a home field. Until now. Wahconah Park located in Pittsfield, MA will host the teams Phase II spring training in mid-May where they will build on to the remnants of the first two rosters constructed so far. That team will play a number of home games there throughout the summer. The stadium is less than a mile from what is described as the epicenter of baseball in a document displayed at the Hall of Fame.
The Red Sox, though, are not the Washington Generals, the Globetrotters' perennial designated whipping boys who are supposed to lose.
Sunday was another long day for the only military barnstorming team ever created featuring Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who pay their own expenses.
They left a Tampa hotel at 5:30 a.m. after an open tryout and Kids Clinic hosted by the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte the day before. They made the two hour trek for their game in Fort Myers. The minute the Sox game ended they took a group photo, signed some autographs and were off to another Kids Clinic, Home Run Derby, and MLB Legends Game hosted by the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL.
It was executed with military precision and they were all excited about all that was planned over the short 72 hours.
"It's just off the charts," Lt. Mark Blask, a new coach with the team, said of playing at the Red Sox's spring-training home.
He wasn't worried about beanballs near the noggins of his players.
"I think if they get knocked down, it won't be the worst thing that's happened," Blask said.
A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter landed in centerfield to deliver the MLB Legends Game ball to be hurled by Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry and Tommy John who served in the Air Force. Lt. Commander Allvord managed the National League squad to a 5-3 victory to cap off an eventful weekend that these U.S. Military All-Stars will never forget.
No, not Sunday. Not on a peaceful beautiful night on a ballfield in America, far from any IEDs.
"We are living a dream," Rodriguez said.
Sox Right-hander Jarod Plummer tossed three scoreless innings, while Military All-Stars pitchers Brett Palanski, Isaac Burkett, Matt Munson, Adam Piechowski and Dustin Shuey of the Air National Guard in Nashua, NH combined to shutout the Red Sox for five of the seven inning exhibition. Army Specialist Karl Seiter, a native of Franklin, led the All-Stars with a pair of hits. VMI Alumni Rob Riley and former Green Beret Chris Weakley added singles for the All-Stars.