So, ever wonder what it feels like to have an entire stadium full of people cheer for you? It feels amazing and warm and you feel respected. Of course none of it was real, but for roughly a minute, I felt like king of the world.
Way back in June, a dear family friend of mine decided to nominate me for the Kansas City Royals and Budweiser's "Our Hero Award," which is a chance for local veterans to be recognized for their service. So, several free tickets and a parking pass later, my family and I enjoyed watching the Royals smash the Twins 7-3. It was great because I hadn't been to a Royals game in over a decade, and it was nice to come back to a beautifully renovated stadium, be recognized and applauded, and then watch a win.
After enjoying myself for the first four innings, they pointed their large black Jumbotron camera at me and I commenced my weird smiling and jerky waving, once again proving just how awkward of a person I am when in any type of spotlight.
And as fun as having my face blasted across a professional sports stadium was, the most endearing moment came after the Jumbotron facetime had ended, and a little boy, who couldn't have been more than six or seven, got permission from his dad to sprint up five rows and shake my hand and tell me that he, and his father, were so "thankful" for all that I did for this country. It was very moving and took all my restraint to not drop a few salty tears on the pavement. Being appreciated, even years after the fact, even when it all feels like a lifetime ago, can still unsettle and reopen old wounds and feelings in a most magnificent way.
And then, of course, the game went on and the glory ended, and I couldn't help but sit there beaming and glowing, knowing that not just my service, but all my friends and platoon-mates' service was validated and worth something, to someone, and that I had such an amazing hometown city.
Thinking back to those dusty sweaty days in the platoon-room in Iraq, receiving boxes and boxes of white socks and greeting cards, I don't think any of my friends would have believed me if I had told them then that a major league baseball team and an international beer brewing behemoth were going to thank all of us publicly someday.
And so, while the recognition that I received on that Thursday night was not just for me, but for all of those that have served, past and present, it felt good knowing that my idyllic vision of Midwest America, one that still upheld traditional morals and values and respect, still existed. But, of course, the highlight of the night was when our baseball team proceeded to kick some serious Minnesota butt.
Here's a video. It's under June 6th: http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/kc/fan_forum/military/walk_off_hero.jsp