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Patriots Day: Softball games show veteran amputees competitive spirit

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 27, 2019 at 5:47 PM

While it was fun and games for the USA Patriots softball team, they also proved to be serious competitors.

The USA Patriots, made up of military veterans who are amputees, faced teams from the Johnson City Fire and Police Departments in a Saturday doubleheader at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.

Cody Rice, who has been featured on ESPN’s amputee home run derby, belted two home runs and also had a ground-rule double in his team’s 10-4 opening-game win over the Johnson City Fire Department.

“I’m a bigger guy and I’ve always had power hitting the ball,” Rice said. “It’s a little more exciting when you hit the big one. The first one, I hit for power, and the second one, I was trying to put in the gap between right and center.”

Rice, a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, is in his fifth year playing with the formerly named Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. The Ohio native, who now lives in California, had his lower right leg amputated while serving in Afghanistan.

He and others tour the country playing the exhibition games, which take in donations for camps for young amputees. The veterans also enjoy a camraderie that reminds Rice of his active duty days.

“I think every veteran should do something where you’re with groups,” Rice said. “This is basically our little sub-culture of amputee veterans, who get to play softball and spend time with each other. It’s like old times in the Army. It’s cool.”

YOU DON’T GIVE UP

If there was any doubt about the team’s competitive nature, it was answered at the end of the second game. Several players were upset about losing 16-15 to the Johnson City Police Department on a walk-off single, when it was down to the game’s final out. As a whole, the USA Patriots win around 75 percent of their games.

Still, it is about much more than wins and losses, as first baseman Chris Hutton from North Dakota explained. They cross the country for 22 to 25 events per year for the kids’ benefit.

“We have events from California to Florida to New York,” he said. “There is a special bond we have as veterans, as amputees and our passion for softball. We are here to raise money for the kids and our annual kids camp.

“It’s special for me to play the police and fire departments. I’ve been a deputy sheriff back home for 21 years and we joke when we play them, it’s the cops and the robbers. It’s inspiring and it’s about serving beyond the uniform. It’s about the inspiration and letting people know because you have a difference, you don’t give up.”

THRILL FOR THE LOCALS

Steven Chappell, who hit a home run for the Johnson City Fire Department, talked about what it meant for the local first responders to share the field with the USA Patriots team.

He was also impressed by the on-field talent shown by a couple of players.

He mentioned right fielder Greg Reynolds, who is missing one-fifth of his body — including his left arm — due to a motorcycle accident. Reynolds, who was given a 1-in-2,000 chance for survival, bats in the lead-off spot for the Patriots. He also proved to be an effective outfielder, catching a trio of fly balls and then quickly shedding his glove to get the ball to the infield.

“It’s an honor and privilege to play them with the sacrifice they’ve given to our country,” Chappell said. “The right fielder, to be able to transfer the ball like that, it was amazing and left us all in awe. The way Cody Rice hit it, I haven’t seen a softball go that far before.”

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