Bucs pay impeccably timed visit to Navy SEALs
Pirates gain perspective from yearly venture to base in San Diego
SAN DIEGO -- For years, various Pirates players, staff members and coaches have made the short drive from their hotel to the U.S. Navy SEALs' base on Coronado Island while in town to play the Padres.
They've toured the SEALs' facilities, shot weaponry, meandered through obstacle courses and watched training regimens.
Months ago, the Pirates solidified plans to take a group to the Naval Amphibious Base on Monday. At the time, no one could have imagined how impeccable the timing would be.
Fewer than 24 hours after Navy SEALs infiltrated a Pakistani compound and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, 27 members of the Pirates organization stepped foot on the base where those same SEALs once trained. And the significance of that was not lost on anyone who was a part of the morning visit.
"Those guys were upbeat and proud of their brother SEALs for the job that they did yesterday," said pitcher Paul Maholm. "You could tell that there was a little pep to their step. It was cool for us to kind of say thank you for all they do for us."
"It was a neat day," added bench coach Jeff Banister, "to see how proud these guys were to be Navy SEALs."
For security reasons, the SEALs were unable to share other details that they had received since President Barack Obama addressed the nation on Sunday night.
"But when we did bring it up, they had smirks on their faces," said first baseman Steve Pearce. "They were proud. You could tell."
The Pirates' connection to the Navy SEALs goes back to 2003, when one of the club's Minor League trainers left to go work for the special operations force. Beginning in '04, athletic trainers Brad Henderson and Mike Sandoval began organizing team groups to visit the base.
Through this, members of the organization formed a particularly strong bond with John McTighe, now a retired Navy SEALs captain, who is from Western Pennsylvania. McTighe, as Henderson explained, is a "huge Pirates fan."
The visits became yearly, and more recently, the Pirates have encouraged other Major League teams to go during their stops in San Diego. A number of teams have taken advantage of the opportunity.
As a way of thanking the SEALs for opening up their facility, teams have left autographed items to be auctioned off. Last year, the SEALs raised $90,000 from the memorabilia and donated those funds to families of fallen soldiers.
"It gives you a lot of perspective about going 0-for-4 in a night," Pearce said. "They are the real heroes."
This year's group spent the majority of its time with SEALs team No. 3 and special boat team No. 12. With the latter, players and staff split up into two boats and enjoyed rides with speeds of about 40-45 mph.
A few members of the SEALs joined the Pirates at PETCO Park for Monday's game against the Padres and were invited onto the field to watch batting practice.
Though the Pirates are no longer the only team that now visits the Coronado Island base, the SEALs found it fitting, too, that it was the Pirates who stopped over amid such a momentous event for the United States military.
"We have a past with the Navy guys down there," Pearce said. "They told us that there was no other team they'd rather have there then the Pittsburgh Pirates, just because we started the visits. It was a powerful moment for those guys."
"They said the Pirates really are the Navy SEALs' baseball team," Henderson said. "They said it's really nice to have us there on the day after they got bin Laden. It was special to be there."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.