White Sox trio boosts military morale

White Sox trio boosts military morale

CHICAGO -- There's nothing unusual about Matt Thornton, A.J. Pierzynski and Chris Sale partaking in a little video-game action before White Sox games.

When these players take on the game "Call of Duty: Black Ops," often going against military men and women stationed overseas, their hobby takes on a whole different meaning

"With all the troops do for us, for us to spend an hour or two, talk to them, hang out with them and give them a good feeling, it's special," said Pierzynski, who helped the White Sox kick off the organization's third annual Charities Week with Tuesday afternoon's Pros vs. G.I. Joes activity.

"As soon as they asked me to do this, there's no way to say, 'No,'" Pierzynski added. "I'm very happy and honored to have the opportunity to do it."

Pierzynski, who would go on the disabled list a short time after leaving the event due to a fractured left wrist suffered Friday when he was hit by a Bruce Chen pitch, Thornton and Sale all made the trip to U.S. Cellular Field to go against soldiers at USO centers in Kandahar and Shindand, Afghanistan, and a third USO center in Iraq. The games were played through one central webcam, with a number of others games set up alongside for the U.S. Cellular participants.

Local military members from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard were brought in through the USO, with these men and women having a chance to take part. They also stopped to take converse with Thornton, Pierzynski and Sale, take pictures and get autographs.

In fact, when these players departed to return to their jobs, they shook hands with each armed forces member in attendance, wished them health and safety and thanked them for what they had done to protect the United States.

"To provide any sort of distraction from all the things they have to deal with on a daily basis, then it's well worth it," Pierzynski said. "We are here to honor them and thank them."

"It means a lot," said Spc. Melvin Davis, who is based in Gary, Ind., but originally is from Merrillville, Ind. "My unit is in Afghanistan. They are coming back next week and have been over there for a year. It shows me we have community support. It's good to see."

Greg Zinone and his wife, Addie, are the creators of Pros vs. G.I. Joes, giving people who normally wouldn't have a chance to give back to the troops an accessible opportunity. They have done this program with the NBA, NFL and the UFC, but only with the Marlins and now the White Sox in regard to Major League Baseball.

"They come up here thinking, 'I'll play a video game,' and when they get here, they look at the webcam and see guys overseas actually playing it, and it's mind-boggling," Zinone said. "You can tell they genuinely are excited to play."

"You don't get to meet guys like this very often," Sale said. "It's great for them to take the time out of their day and do this kind of stuff, especially for the guys overseas. As mental of a game as baseball is, doing what they do is 10 times harder."

Being the accomplished players that they are in "Call of Duty," Pierzynski, Thornton and Sale certainly were trying to win. The running joke was that Thornton might be tough to get off the game in time for first pitch against the Indians at 7:10 p.m. CT.

This activity marked the first of daily events for White Sox Charities Week, including in-game auctions, a visit to Children's Memorial Hospital, a baseball clinic for Chicago Special Olympics and work with the Greater Chicago Food Depository Produce Mobile. It was clearly as much fun for the players as it was for the soldiers and as high an honor as hitting a walk-off home run or recording the game's final out.

"Having a bad day for us is losing a game," Sale said. "It's a little bit better than a bad day for them. It's good for us to come in here and be able to do something like this and have a good time with it, as well."

"We enjoy this just as much as they do," Thornton said. "It's all for fun and to let them know we care a lot. We care about what they do for our country and our freedom."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.