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Parasiliti: Without swinging, Jaye hits home run

September 09, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Usually, Sept. 8 doesn’t have a spot on the patriotic calendar.

It’s just another day. It’s this side of Independence Day and that side of Veterans Day.

Yet Saturday, this Sept. 8, was different.

Rockets’ red glare and bombs were bursting in the air.

And by the end of the night, the flag was still there.

With apologizes to Francis Scott Key, this was a different “Star Spangled Banner.”

It was for Kevin Jaye.

Jaye is a 25-year-old PFC in the Army 3rd Infantry Division, who was severely injured by stepping on a pressure plate of an IED during his tour in Afghanistan. He lost his right leg below his knee and a finger and also suffered a severely broken left leg and a shattered eardrum.

On Saturday, he was saluted just like the flags that fly over Municipal Stadium.

Softball’s heavy hitters went to war, competing to see who could hit the most balls out of Municipal Stadium in the third annual Hub City/Maryland Softball Show/Greene Turtle Home Run Derby. Proceeds from the event were donated to Jaye.

The participants came from near and far to compete in reverence to Jaye, who went to war to allow them to indulge in such pursuits.

Like most young men, Jaye used the adjective “awesome” as he watched the competition from his wheelchair from Municipal Stadium’s grandstand. He wasn’t used to being the center of attention, receiving gifts and shirts from the sponsors.

He even threw out the first pitch after AMVETS Post 10’s honor guard presented the colors in a ceremony to thank Jaye and everyone who has served to protect this country.

But the gestures were far from lost on him.

“It’s pretty awesome that a bunch of people got together to do something for some one individual who went to fight a war,” Jaye said.

To those hitters, it was the other way around.

“It’s a good cause,” said Chris Grienert. “There are young kids out there risking their lives, the least I could do is come to hit in a home run derby and put on a show to help lift their spirits. It’s nothing in comparison.”

Home runs are Grienert’s livelihood. The Maryland native plays softball professionally in Wyoming. He was home to see his son and was scheduled to head back to his team on Wednesday, but got permission and was encouraged by his sponsor to stay and compete in the event.

“This is important,” Grienert said, after meeting Jaye. “To see someone (in Jaye’s situation) is humbling. I get paid to play ball because of what he did. It’s the least I can do.”

Jaye became the third local serviceman to receive proceeds from the event, but the first to be able to attend it.

The first two recipients were still in Afghanistan, and the money was used to buy supplies and comforts for the local hero and his service group. Jaye’s buddies will be home by the time all the money is collected and he doesn’t want it. Instead, it will be donated in his name to Wounded Warrior charities.

Jaye, rather sheepishly, thanked the players, all the sponsors and Doug Levine and his group that organized the event.

“This is a good feeling, but I feel guilty,” Jaye said humbly. “I’m home and the rest of my guys are still over there.”

Still, in his own, unfortunate way, Jaye was a vivid reminder to all.

“This all puts everything in perspective,” said Casey Hutzell, a Hagerstown resident who plays in the Hub City League and is a huge supporter of the event. “To see someone like Kevin, who is so full of energy and always smiling, it hits home to all the local guys.

“I play softball for a lot less reasons than this. But to be able to combine the two — honoring all the servicemen and women and to play a game — it is an honor.”

After the pregame festivities, the evening started with an exhibition game between Maryland Softball Show and local players, which featured a monster shot by Grienert, whose first shot cleared the wall in center and traveled halfway down Cleveland Avenue.

Then it was time for the main event as some 50 players opened an attack on Municipal Stadium’s walls. Many turned in game jerseys to don white Greene Turtle T-shirts with TEAM JAYE printed on the back. 

While they were taking their shots, Jaye admitted having an itch.

“I was big into baseball,” Jaye said. “I used to pitch and catch and when I wasn’t playing either of them, I played shortstop. I wish I didn’t stop playing.”

That competitive fire and fighting spirit is still burning.

Jaye continues his rehabilitation and awaits a “good fit” of his artificial leg at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Jaye considers himself “one of the lucky ones” because he has these opportunities that other wounded soldiers can’t attempt.

He made a breakthrough over the last few weeks. Jaye has started walking again, traveling 60 feet — halfway around the hospital’s mini-track — in just his fourth attempt.

Now, Jaye has ideas.

“I wish I was out there,” Jaye said with a smile. “I’m going to work and get out there next year.”

And then Kevin Jaye should really be saluted.

And that would give everyone a reason to remember this Sept. 8 as patriotic.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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