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Wounded Warriors play ball in Topeka

“The reception we get is amazing. People really open their hearts up,” noted Wounded Warrior Softball Coach Bucky Weaver.

He and his team traveled to LaGrange County this past weekend to take on Topeka All-Star teams in three games.

The team was guests for a luncheon Saturday at the Farmstead Inn in Shipshewana, with law enforcement officers, veterans, and their families helping to prepare and serve the meal. They were also guests for a breakfast at LaGrange American Legion Post 215.

“The biggest events seem to be in the smaller towns,” Weaver said. This doesn’t surprise him, he added, as so many soldiers serving in the armed forces come from small, middle-America towns.

The softball team plays at about 30 events each year, totaling around 100 games, a grueling schedule for any athlete. But these players are also soldiers who were injured in service and are missing a limb or two.

Former Marine Matias Ferreira from Long Island, N.Y., played first base during the Topeka games, and has been playing for almost six years with the team. He was injured in January 2011, losing both legs. In May of that year, he met one of the players from the Wounded Warrior Team and was invited to play. “I fell in love with what the team had to offer,” he said.

Chris Hutton, with the U.S. Army, has been with the team for 4½ years, and is a pitcher for the team. He was on a team that played against the Wounded Warrior squad. “It was really amazing watching them play,” he said. He had lost a leg six years prior to seeing the Wounded Warrior team in action. The team manager talked to him after that game, and was soon on the team’s roster. “I thought it was inspiring and I wanted to play with them,” Hutton stated.

Both Hutton and Ferreira love working in the kids’ camps that the team hosts. The team works with children who have had a limb amputated, to show them what they are capable of doing on the field.

“It gets very competitive,” Ferreira said of the games they play around the country.

“If the other team gets off to a strong start, you’ll see our team get really focused,” Hutton added.

Many of the players on the Wounded Warrior team played sports in college or leagues, and still love to play. “We give them a hell of a show,” Ferreira said. “We’re diving for balls. Hitting home runs. Turning the double plays.”

But they also know it’s a game and recognize that those watching the game are getting more than just some sports entertainment from it. “The public gets some inspiration out of it,” Hutton said.

“I’ve lost two legs and am still out there playing,” Ferreira said. “It (the team) teaches that anyone can overcome adversity with a positive attitude.”

And within the team, with many shared experiences to draw from, they see themselves as ballplayers who push each other to be better players, as well as get inspired by what the others can do.

 And that inspiration is contagious for those who get to watch the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team play.