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Military Kids Face Off at White House T-Ball Event

By Donna Miles / American Forces Press Service

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President Bush and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace share a lighter moment with “Dugout” the mascot. The McGuire Air Force Base Yankees faced off against the Dolcom Little League Indians during the Whitehouse T-Ball game on the South Lawn, June 23, 2006. Photo by U.S. Navy Cdr. Jane Campbell

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One of the Yankees makes an agressive throw toward first during the Whitehouse T-Ball game on the South Lawn, June 23, 2006. Photo by U.S. Navy Cdr. Jane Campbell

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One of the Indians sluggers sprints towards first base during the Whitehouse T-Ball game on the South Lawn, June 23, 2006. Photo by U.S. Navy Cdr. Jane Campbell

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2006 - President Bush honored military children June 23 as he kicked off the 2006 "T-Ball on the South Lawn" series at the White House with two teams of military Little Leaguers.

Five- and 6-year-olds from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., competed in a one-inning afternoon game in Washington's sticky summer heat.

McGuire's "Yankees" and the New London's Dolphin Community "Dolcom Indians" received a hearty welcome from President Bush before starting the 25-minute game.

"Laura and I are thrilled you're here for opening day," the president told them before sitting in the bleachers with first lady Laura Bush and families from the bases. Joining them was Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who served as the game's honorary commissioner.

"General Pace and I expect there to be some pretty good competition today," the president told the players.

Five-year-old Joshua Brigandi, the Yankees' player number seven, didn't disappoint as he moved up to bat and the Indians took the field. Other pint-sized players took turns at the batting tee, swinging at the stationary ball until they hit it, then rounding the bases.

Some advanced with determination from base to base. Others needed gentle adult coaching to keep them moving. One little player tickled those in the stands when she hit the ball, then picked it up from the field and carried it with her toward first base.

Throughout the game, players, coaches and spectators alike sported ear-to-ear grins as the Little Leaguers rendered "high fives" to anyone who would return the gesture, regardless of their team affiliation.

Unlike traditional baseball, T-ball has no pitchers, no foul balls, no outs and no score. "Everyone is a winner!" said Tim Brandt of ABC Sports and WJLA-TV, announcer for the game, who showered the players with "attaboys" and encouragement.

"Dugout," the mascot for the Little League of America, pranced around the field throughout the game. Meanwhile, the President's Own Marine Band played musical interludes, including a jazzed-up version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

After every player had hit the ball and rounded the bases and the game was officially over, Pace joined Bush as he presented autographed baseballs to each player and coach, then posed for photos.

Brandt led the crowd in offering both teams a big round of applause. "Sportsmanship is so important, in Little League baseball and throughout the world," he said.

Five-year-old Matthew Cunningham from the Indians was excited about his game. "I jumped into home base!" he exclaimed.

Six-year-old Johnny LaPore, a Yankees player, focused less on the actual play and more on the experience. He said his mother had explained before his trip here that he was getting the opportunity to do something monumental.

"This is really special to play at the White House," he said, as his father and Yankees assistant coach Maj. John LaPore looked on.

"It's all unbelievable," the elder LaPore said. "It's just a huge honor. I'm humbled by the experience to play T-ball here."

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Strauch, head coach for the Indians when he's not teaching at New London's Naval Submarine School, called it "a great honor," to bring the team to the White House to play T-ball. "It's pretty amazing that the president would take time out of his day to do this, and especially great that he's doing it for the military," he said. "It's impressive."

"I think it's great," agreed Navy Petty Officer Joshua Kreider, also an Indians coach and instructor at the Naval Submarine School.

Military families miss out on a lot of experiences that many other people take for granted, the group members acknowledged. Kreider said he's been at sea for three of his son Quintin's four years and relished the chance to join him at the T-ball game. "We miss a lot of their lives and they miss a lot of ours," he said of military parents and their kids.

Young LaPore said it was tough "letting go of my dad for 120 days" during his recent deployment. And just as Johnny was adjusting to having his father back home, he was preparing mentally for his family's move in two weeks to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.-the fourth move in his six years.

"You move around a lot. You don't stay in one spot and your dads go to sea," said 16-year-old Scott Cunningham, who came with father, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Cunningham, to watch his young brother play T-ball. "It can be hard."

Danielle McPeak, manager for the Yankees, said she was delighted that the president acknowledged these challenges and gave special honor to military children. "He knows the sacrifices our families make," said McPeak, whose husband and fellow coach is deployed to the United Arab Emirates. "This is his little way of saying thank you to us."

President Bush, a Little League Hall of Famer, launched his White House Tee Ball initiative in 2001 to promote interest in baseball and a spirit of teamwork and service for the country's youth. This game was the 14th in the series and the first of the 2006 season.

Teams from Fort Belvoir, Va., and Naval Station Norfolk, Va., faced off in 2003. One year later, teams from Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., and Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina competed.


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