MLB, Budweiser looking to go deep for troops

MLB, Budweiser looking to go deep for troops

NEW YORK -- If 2010 was the Year of the Pitcher, a special promotion is providing a great reason to hope 2011 is the Year of the Slugger.

For every home run hit during the regular season, Budweiser will donate $100 to Folds of Honor -- a charity that provides post-secondary educational scholarships for children and spouses of killed or disabled military personnel.

Hall of Famer Dave Winfield stood on board the USS Intrepid, moored at Pier 86 and West 46th Street in Manhattan, to promote Budweiser's "Here's to the Heroes." Rodney "Rocky" Sickmann, a Marine veteran who was taken hostage during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, represented Budweiser, for whom he has worked for 26 years.

"My dad was in the army, so were my wife's dad and uncle, so I'm familiar with what military families go through," Winfield said. "It's not always easy. They don't always have a lot of money. They're away from their family, and if they're disabled or they do not come home -- just to have this educational money set aside for the post-secondary education is a great thing. I'm glad to really be a part of this. I really can't hit the home runs anymore, but I certainly can spread the word."

Sickmann was a Marine sergeant during the hostage crisis. He spent 444 days held captive after a group of Islamic students and militants took over the United States Embassy in Tehran.

"I was a young Marine security guard at the time," Sickmann said. "First month, we were tied to a chair for 30 days, and then afterward locked in a room for 400 days. We went outside seven times just to see the sunshine. You have to understand that freedom was removed -- there was no freedom."

Now Sickmann works with Budweiser to help veterans and active personnel get the recognition he feels they deserve.

"Here I am, 30 years later, being involved with Budweiser on this 'Here's to the Heroes' home run program, with a Hall of Famer in Dave Winfield, to make sure we, as Americans, do not forget the men and women who serve. Because I thought I was forgotten, it's something very near and dear to me."

Sickmann said Budweiser hopes to raise $2 million through the "Here's to the Heroes" program, which will also raise money through Budweiser's Facebook page.

"Budweiser and Major League Baseball have been around since 1980, a long long time," Sickmann said. "Budweiser and baseball -- it's made for each other. How many times do you go to a game and have a hot dog and a beer?"

Last season, Major Leaguers combined to hit 4,613 homers in 2,430 regular-season games. In 2009, they hit 5,042.

Winfield, who wears a Padres cap on his Hall of Fame plaque and is an executive vice president of the Padres, got a first-hand look at the military life five years ago, when he landed on an aircraft carrier off the California coast. With its short runway and arresting cable, an aircraft carrier provides a more abrupt landing experience than a normal airport. Some pilots have even called a carrier landing a "controlled crash."

"That was one of the more exciting things I did," Winfield said. "One of the aircraft carriers was going to come into port. It was a couple hundred miles out. So we took one of the planes, flew out to the aircraft carrier and we landed. When you stop suddenly, that's quite a thing.

"We stayed overnight, ate dinner with everybody and hung with the troops. It really gives you a great perspective on our armed forces and people who are protecting our country. And then to come in on that aircraft carrier, everybody standing at attention on the deck, it's an awesome feeling."

The Padres have a long history of military recognition in a community with a heavy presence of armed forces.

"When I was in San Diego, years ago, even in the '70s, they would honor the military on Sundays," Winfield said. "You could always expect to see a major contingent in the military in San Diego. They have the best military marketing in the country."

Sickmann, who is a fan of the Cardinals and their slugging first baseman Albert Pujols, hopes the promotion gives his team extra incentive.

"During Spring Training, Pujols was hitting a lot of home runs," Sickmann said. "I was thinking, 'Boy he must've heard about our program, because he's really starting to hit.'"

Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.