By Andy Banker | KY3 TV | ky3.com | June 22, 2011
Maryland Heights, Mo. – It was all downhill for the Cardinals after Wednesday’s first pitch against the Phillies at Busch Stadium, but wow, what a first pitch.
It was a night to remember at the ballpark as St. Louis celebrated Marine week. It was one of those nights where what happened during the game really didn’t matter much.
The pre-game ceremonies were absolute magic: the first pitch and so much more.
The Marine Band was rousing, playing just beyond the centerfield wall.
A Harrier jet flyover was stirring.
Neither event had anything on what was still to come.
Marine Corporal, Tyler Fuffman of Fullton, MO, paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in Afghanistan in December, was about to drive around the field on his own, in his specialized truck, paid for by the SemperFi Fund.
“I would never, ever thought of doing this. This is a total surprise. I’d come back to do it every weekend if I could,” he beamed.
He’d thrown at the first pitch Tuesday night.
“The feeling of going out on the field to throw out the first pitch, it’s indescribable to be out there on something like that,” he said. “Kids, moms,dads, grandparents, shaking my hands saying, ‘thank you for your service’. It’s been almost every other person. I’ve met some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, here in this stadium…it makes me feel better knowing they do appreciate what we’re doing over there and the price some of us pay. It really lifts your spirit and your self esteem.”
After the singing of God Bless America and the National Anthem, off Cpl. Huffman went for his thrill ride.
And yet the main event remained…
Cpl. Justin McLoud of Cedar Hill, who lost his legs and an arm after being wounded in Afghanistan a week after Huffman, had a surprise meeting with his junior high school band director, who just happened to have front row tickets for the game.
As they reminisced, dozens of Patriot Guard Riders surrounded home plate. Fans stirred as Cpl. McLoud headed for the pitcher’s mound then threw out the pitch; the crowd erupted as the Cardinals’ Mark Hamilton, threw his hands into the air after catching the ball.
The former band director was on cloud 9, not believing that fate had put her in the front row.
“He looks the same as he did in Junior High, except that he’s a beefed up, sturdy Marine,” said Kathy Stoll.
She couldn’t have been prouder.
“Only if I was his mom,” she said.
“It was really nice to see that kind of reaction from people when veterans are out on the field,” Cpl. McLoud said.
“It was pretty awesome,” his wife, Amber, said of the pitch. “He didn’t want to practice. I had my doubts. He did amazing. It’s just an awesome feeling knowing everyone’s rooting for my husband as much as I am.”
Just as awesome, her husband’s outlook, talking about Huffman and his own future, with his “new legs”; prosthetics he’s still learning to use.
“Technology today is so incredible. The legs I have now are better than the ones I used to have. My knees were going out. These knees will never go out,” he smiled. “Keep supporting us. We definitely appreciate your support.”
The Semper Fi Fund, which paid for Huffman’s truck, was started by Marine wives 7 years ago.
It has raised out about $50-million to help wounded Marines adapt to life after war.
Go to semperfifund.org to learn more and make a donation.