Braves help give veterans special day

Team joins with Wounded Warrior Project to host batting practice

Braves help give veterans special day

ATLANTA -- There were heroes taking swings Friday afternoon at Turner Field but not the kind that usually do so.

There were no Atlanta Braves players anywhere to be found -- no current ones, anyway.

The heroes taking their cuts are part of the Wounded Warrior Project, veterans that have faced down real life-or-death situations, paying a price in the process. Friday at Turner Field was their day in the sun.

"We wanted to find a creative way to give back to the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect our freedom," said Braves community affairs director Ericka Newsome-Hill. "So we said, 'What better event could we do than to invite them out to Turner Field and participate in a batting practice?' We wanted to treat them to a special day."

The day started with a tour of Turner Field, followed by lunch at the 755 Club, then the piece de resistance, an announcement that the group would be allowed down to the field to take batting practice and hang out with former Braves Johnny Estrada, Greg McMichael, Jim Nash and Ron Reed.

The Braves alumni made the rounds, hanging out at home plate, sitting in the dugout and even venturing out to the outfield to chat up the nearly 40 participating veterans.

"These guys were brave enough to serve our country and do what they did. A lot of them have injuries and had to quit serving and they're here for whatever reasons," said Estrada. "I just love to show my support for them. Those are the real warriors and soldiers of our country."

"We probably don't know a quarter of the stuff that they've gone through and what they do for us on a daily basis. To be able to let them come out and let them enjoy being out here on the field, a gorgeous day at Turner Field, and to be able to hit a little bit, it means a lot," said McMichael.

As a golden sun shone down, breaking a streak of rainy days, there was plenty of trash-talking and laughter coming from inside and around the batting cage interspersed with the sound of ball meeting bat.

"I'm hot and sweaty but I've enjoyed this," said 32-year-old RickyLee Pinkney of Augusta, Ga., who served from 2001 through 2013, including four years of combat. "The experience, being here with all the guys, it's pretty cool.

"For me, it's been a life-changing experience," he added. "I never thought I'd have the opportunity but the Atlanta Braves and the Wounded Warriors Program afforded me the opportunity. I just struck out a few times but hey, I'm still having a blast and I enjoyed every swing of it."

Ernesto Jimenez, 28, a Gwinnett native, who remembers watching Braves games at Fulton County Stadium as a kid, was especially grateful to the Braves for granting him the opportunity to go out in center field like his favorite player growing up, Andruw Jones, and for the Wounded Warrior Project's aid to vets like himself.

Said Jimenez, who medically retired two years ago at age 26, recently graduated from Gwinnett Technical College and will soon be a practicing paramedic, "It's a way to do something different that you normally don't get to do in your everyday life and it shows that the Braves community does care about its veterans."

Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.