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Spring training for veterans

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Elderly veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War gathered April 26 at Frank Brown Park to play a friendly game of baseball, known as the Miracle League Veterans Game.

The players arrived to the field with police and motorcycle escorts with American and POW/MIA flags in tow. Following a brief introduction, Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst threw out the first pitch.

“This is my second year playing. It’s really been nice,” said Maxine Mann, a resident of Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home. “It really was something coming in and seeing all the people smiling, cheering and waving flags.”

This event was the tenth of its kind over the past five years and was dubbed the veterans “Spring training.”

"For them, in their minds, they might be in those old bodies but they're out here feeling young again, playing baseball," said Dave Johnson, the founder of the Miracle League Veterans Game.

Johnson has a special tie to the game and the veterans.

“My dad served in Africa and Persia in World War II. And sadly, my uncle was lost in the Pacific in 1942 aboard the U.S.S. Langley,” Johnson said. “Veterans from back then didn’t come back and get the red carpet treatment that we give to our veterans now, so this is our chance to show them they are not forgotten.”

During the event all the players got a chance at bat and seemed to enjoy the game.

“I try to remain as active as I can, and this was something the Sims Community home offered,” Mann said. “I enjoyed playing the game – being out in the sun and the camaraderie. The pitcher does make it pretty easy though. It’s almost like he aims at your bat, so you really have to try to miss.”

To ensure the veterans get as many chances to play as possible, the Miracle Leagues host these games on a biannual basis.

“Starting back in 2011, after coordination with the Sims Community Home, we started the veteran’s league,” Johnson said. “It was a match made in heaven. They were looking for something to do, and we were looking for people to bring an experience to.”

After the game, the players, friends and family gathered for luncheon, exchanged stories, and looked forward to the next game in November.