Lucroy receives Bob Feller Act of Valor Award

Lucroy receives Bob Feller Act of Valor Award

WASHINGTON -- In September 2011, something changed Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy's perspective. That's when John Coker Jr., Lucroy's former roommate and teammate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, was seriously wounded in an ambush while serving in Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard.

Coker survived, but the incident and its aftermath gave Lucroy a new appreciation for the sacrifices that service members and their families make. He soon began finding ways to give back to them, and four years later, Lucroy was honored for those contributions as he received the 2015 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award in a ceremony on Wednesday night at the U.S. Navy Memorial.

"It took something personal to happen for me to realize that, 'Hey, I think I want to do something with this and help out,'" Lucroy said. "I'm on this platform as a baseball player and able to give back and help and do things for people to distract them from their problems, so why not try to focus it toward veterans?"

This was the third year of the award, which Peter Fertig started to honor the legacy of Feller, the late Indians pitcher who took almost four full seasons out of the prime of his Hall of Fame career to serve in World War II. Feller, who enlisted in the Navy almost immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, saw combat in both the North Atlantic and the Pacific, earning six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars.

Each year, an active Major Leaguer and a Hall of Famer are chosen out of a list of nominees for possessing "the values, integrity and dedication to serving our country that Bob Feller himself displayed." An award also is given to a Navy Chief Petty Officer, the rank Feller achieved during his time in the service.

Honored along with Lucroy on Wednesday were Royals Hall of Famer George Brett and Chief Petty Officer Genell Cody. Brett, currently a vice president of baseball operations with the Royals, was unable to attend in the wake of the team's World Series championship. Tommy Lasorda, last year's Hall of Fame honoree, accepted on his behalf. Other past recipients have included Yogi Berra, Nick Swisher and Justin Verlander.

This year the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award also founded the Jerry Coleman Award, handing out the first one to U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Rene Segura. The new award was named after the late Major League player, manager and legendary Padres broadcaster, who postponed his own baseball career to fly combat missions as a Marine Corps pilot in both World War II and the Korean War.

Also new this year were a pair of Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Awards, earned by groups of junior sailors at sea on the USS Carl Vinson and on shore with HOPPER Information Services, who have done work with their respective chapters of the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions.

For Lucroy, a 2014 National League All-Star, his friend's experience lit a fire. Since then, Lucroy's efforts have included providing scholarship funds to military families, visiting VA hospitals and working with a camp that helps children who have lost a loved one in a military conflict. He supports Fisher House Wisconsin, which provides a free place to stay for people from out of town who have a family member being treated at a VA hospital. Lucroy also frequently hosts veterans at Brewers games, bringing them out on the field for batting practice.

"The biggest thing you can give, for anybody, is your life," Lucroy said. "Whenever men and women sign that paper [to enlist], that's what they're saying, that they're willing to give their lives so we can live this life that we have.

"For me to play a game for a living is a huge honor, and not a lot of people think of it that way, but men and women have died for that freedom, for us to be able to do this. So I try to honor them as best I can and give back where I can ... as much as I can, and help people feel better."

On Saturday, Lucroy will be right back in Washington, volunteering for the second time to travel on an Honor Flight, which takes World War II and Korean War veterans to the nation's capital to visit the monuments and memorials.

"Jonathan's a great young man that cares deeply about our country," said Fertig, who was a friend of Feller's. "He is an unbelievable athlete, which is great. He's an unbelievable baseball player, which is wonderful. But like Justin and Nick, he sees the big picture, cares deeply about the people that serve. I can't say enough about him."

Brett, who racked up more than 3,000 hits over his 21 seasons with Kansas City, has for years visited service members at bases and VA hospitals throughout the area, as well as meeting with active-duty military members and participating in ceremonies welcoming home deployed troops.

"Wow, what an honor," Brett said in a statement. "I am constantly amazed at the work service men and women do for our country. To be recognized in the name of Bob Feller and to have the honor in getting to know some outstanding members of the Navy is truly special."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.