D-backs hurlers, Army specialist find similarities

D-backs hurlers, Army specialist find similarities

If not for the convincing argument from his father, who was a Marine, Heath Bell says there's a pretty good chance he would have ended up in the military himself. Instead, he's forged a 10-year All-Star career in baseball.

But that doesn't mean the two entities -- military and baseball -- don't coincide still in his life.

"My dad was a Marine and he talked me out of being a Marine in high school and in junior college," Bell said. "He told me to stick with baseball and try that. It's worked out a little bit."

Bell, along with fellow D-backs relievers Brad Ziegler and Josh Collmenter, met individually with Old Guard Soldier of the Year Spc. Michael Sands when the D-backs visited Nationals Park in Washington to play the Nationals in June. They each shared some stories of experiences in their respective fields, talked about their families and played catch before Sands took some batting practice prior to the game.

"I can relate," Sands said of the trio's life in the bullpen. "We can get called any day, 365 [days of the year]. We always have to be ready, there's no excuses. Gotta come out, perform and do your job."

While the responsibilities may differentiate immensely, the similarities between Sands and the D-backs relievers didn't end there.

Like Bell, Collmenter talked to Sands about his ties to the Marine Corps. Collmenter's youngest brother just recently finished four years of service in the Marines before re-enlisting for another four. Likewise, Sands shared that he also has younger siblings who serve in the Marines and the Army.

"I know what it's like to not see these people. For me it's been several months at a time," Sands said. "One of them I went a year and a half without seeing. I know how it goes. With family, that's really tough -- not seeing your wife, your fiancée, your kids."

Along with not seeing his brothers for extended periods of time, Sands has a fiancée whom he doesn't see for upward of three to four months at a time. While he is stationed in Fort Myer in Virginia, she is working toward completing her degree in Chicago.

Ziegler, who supports the military through his Pastime for Patriots foundation, assured Sands that the sacrifice of both he and his loved ones does not go unnoticed. The foundation, which was originally designed to give baseball tickets to families of soldiers who were overseas, has since developed into much more.

Now, it also helps put on events like baby showers for pregnant military wives whose husbands have been delayed. It also contributes to scholarship funds for students whose parents have been killed in service.

"We're all about supporting the troops and we'll get involved with care packages and stuff like that, but we also want to make sure the families at home are not forgotten as well," Ziegler said. "We understand they're making a huge sacrifice in dealing with their loved one, who's overseas risking their life every day for our freedom."

Sands is currently an infantryman, but plans to become a non-commissioned officer. He then hopes to be accepted into the Army Green to Gold Active Duty Program, a two-year program that provides eligible active-duty soldiers with the opportunity to complete their bachelor's degree or two-year master's degree and be commissioned as an Army officer upon completion.

If all goes well, Sands can realistically achieve those goals within the next three or four years. Similar to the life of a Major Leaguer, though, Sands has no way of knowing where he will end up or what he will be doing four years down the road.

"With the Old Guard and with the Army, you have to be flexible and ready for everything to change," Sands told Collmenter. "A phone call could come in, your orders can come down, 'You've got to miss this class here' or 'Your unit is deploying here.' Just do the best you can and -- just like baseball -- anything can happen, so you've always got to be ready."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.