Guest Commentary

A memorable show of gratitude from the Royals for military and families

Photo courtesy Travis Neely

Today, many of the sports headlines we see question some of our athletes and their actions during the national anthem. At no point do I want to question anyone’s right to our nation’s precious First Amendment. Rather, we should celebrate the amazing things that some of our athletes right here in Kansas City do that often go unnoticed.

The 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in Sedalia, Mo., is currently deployed at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, and across the Middle East. This week, Fox Sports Kansas City, Kansas City Royals alumni, the United Service Organizations and the American Forces Network provided many of our soldiers deployed from Kansas and Missouri and our families with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was profoundly moving to many of those who participated.

Former players George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Reggie Sanders and Mike Sweeney, along with Fox Sports KC crew members and personality Joel Goldberg, made the long trip simply to spend an afternoon with us and watch Tuesday night’s “This One’s For You” Royals game.

On the day that America reflected on the 17th year since the heinous attack on our great nation, we got to spend the day showing some of our childhood heroes what deployed life is like. There was an astonishing display of mutual respect among all of our distinguished visitors and the soldiers as they talked, posed for photos and signed autographs.

Meanwhile back in Kansas City, nearly 600 of our family members and closest friends prepared and traveled to Kauffman Stadium to attend the game live. Aramark and the Royals provided a tailgate party and a top-notch patriotic pregame display on the field.

Family members at the game were seated in a dedicated section where for at least nine innings, baseball was able to do what it does best: unite everyone and help us all to forget about our day-to-day worries.

Simultaneously half a world away, former players and soldiers were eating funnel cakes and telling stories about their experiences. Some soldiers shared stories of war, while others of us got to laugh about baseball stories with players we once lived vicariously through as kids.

When the time came for a performance of the national anthem by now-famous retired Chief Petty Officer Gerald Wilson, the USO went silent. Later in the game between innings, Royals Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney took the time to address everyone in attendance at the Camp Buehring watch party, a moment that people at home didn’t get to see.

Sweeney, with 16 years in Major League Baseball, explained that he and the other players have toed the line for the national anthem many times before games. Being able to listen to this particular anthem, on this particular day with us, gave him chills. He told us repeatedly that it was an experience he will never forget.

As the game continued, many spouses and families were interviewed in the booth with Rex Hudler and Ryan Lefebvre, including my wife and two daughters (twins almost 1 year old). It was an experience my family and I will truly cherish for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, baseball games end. When the sun came up in Kuwait and the lights went off at Kauffman, I realized there are indeed athletes past and present whom we can truly look up to as fans.

Thank you to all who made these past days possible.

Travis R. Neely is a resident of Lenexa and is a major with the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade, currently deployed in support of Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. These comments do not directly reflect the views of the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade.