D-backs pay special tribute to military families

D-backs pay special tribute to military families

PHOENIX -- As a way of saying thanks to the men and women of the armed services for Veterans Day, the D-backs brought baseball to Luke Air Force Base last Friday night.

The D-backs Training Center staff put on a family clinic on Mark Grace Thunderbolt Field for the military families on the base, many of whom have a loved one currently serving overseas.

"We wanted to do something for Veterans Day that was specifically geared to the military," director of baseball outreach and development Jeff Rodin said.

The idea was the brainchild of Rodin, his staff of Jeff Swanson and Jennifer Howland, as well as a pair of members of the D-backs' extended family -- Kurt Umlauf and Brent Vosseller.

That's Capt. Umlauf and Lt. Col. Vosseller, both members of the U.S. Air Force.

Umlauf, who is a commander in the 420th Munitions Squadron, is currently stationed in the United Kingdom.

When he is not overseas, Umlauf works as an instructor for the D-backs Training Centers and he is a diehard D-backs fan.

"It has been an absolute honor and privilege to have served in the Air Force for the past 16 years and as a coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks Training Centers over the past three years," he wrote in a letter that was read during the clinic's opening ceremonies. "Like the Air Force, the Arizona Diamondbacks are committed to excellence on and off the field and wish to provide superior support to Diamondbacks fans and the local community. Enjoy the clinic, enjoy the upcoming holiday, and take care of yourselves and each other. You are doing great things for our country and the community. Aim High! Fly, Fight, and Win! Go Diamondbacks!"

Vosseller, meanwhile, is currently in Afghanistan, where he is deputy commander of the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.

Despite being stationed overseas, Vosseller always finds a way to make it back to Arizona in January to participate in the club's annual Fantasy Camp. Baseball has always been an important part of his life.

"When I was in high school and had nothing in common with my dad, we would still spend time playing catch or watching the game of the week on Saturdays, which would usually feature the D-backs' own Joe Garagiola as one of the commentators," Vosseller wrote in his letter that was also read during the clinic's opening ceremonies. "Now that I have a 6-year-old son of my own, we spend our quality time in the summer playing catch or hitting the ball in the backyard. Baseball taught me several winning attributes that have served me well in the Air Force and in life.  Teamwork, discipline, focus, responsibility and leadership are just a few skills common to both baseball and the military."

In addition to the clinic itself, which featured hitting, infield, outfield and pitching stations, there were inflatable interactive items and a speed pitch machine. Each kid was given a D-backs hat -- and since it was a family clinic, parents were encouraged to take part, as well.

The clinic drew 135 people, 90 of whom were between the ages of 6 and 12. Of that 90, nearly 30 percent had a mother or father currently serving overseas.

"You don't fully realize the sacrifices made by military families until you see a kid standing there with a grandparent signing him [up] because his parents are overseas," Swanson said. "That we were able to do this was special for all of us."

One of the reasons the organization was able to put on the event was due to The Campers Fund, which was started by a group of D-backs Fantasy Camp participants to raise money for the D-backs Outreach and Development program, so programs like the one at Luke Air Force Base would be possible.

In addition, the Campers Fund, which has raised close to $100,000, helps provide D-backs Training Center scholarships to underprivileged youths to attend the clinics, as well as funding foreign exchange programs.

"It really just all came together perfectly for us," Rodin said. "We had the field that Mark Grace had donated on the base, we had the connection with Kurt Umlauf and Brent Vosseller, and then The Campers Fund. It was a great way for us to say thank you to the military -- and that's something that we want to continue to do."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.