The Washington Times - September 4, 2011, 01:21PM

Jonny Gomes was 21 years old when he was wrapping up junior college in northern California. He didn’t have a scholarship to a four-year school and he didn’t expect to be drafted by a major league team. He was, as he put it, kind of out of options.

So Gomes decided that he would join the military, the marines, to be exact.

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“I was going to join the marines willingly,” Gomes said “And I was excited about it. It wasn’t just because it was my last option.”

As Gomes retold the story to the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball team in the dugout at Nationals Park Sunday morning, he pulled up his right pant leg to display a tattoo that covers his entire lower leg — and all of it is a tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces. There’s a Statue of Liberty, to represent the east coast, a Golden Gate Bridge to represent the west coast, the date the U.S. forces caught and killed Osama Bin Laden (5/1/11), the helmet resting on a gun with dog tags, the sign for fallen soldiers, two World War II planes and, beneath it all, red white and blue flames.

The display was met with excitement and appreciation from the 10 amputee softball players, a small gesture by Gomes for them as they prepared to take the field after the Nationals-Mets game this afternoon to take on a roster of D.C. celebrities in a softball game. The team, which is made up of six marines and four members of the army, travels across the country playing all different able-bodied teams. They’ve already played the FBI and CIA and when they leave Nationals Park Sunday night, they’ll have a new sponsor. The Nationals are partnering with the team so now, wherever they go to play, they’ll do so with a Nationals jersey on their backs.

“The Lerner family and the Nationals are honored to work with this remarkable group of active duty and veteran service members, who encourage all of us to face our own challenges with the same tenacity as they have,” said Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner. “They are a great inspiration to all Americans, and the Nationals look forward to partnering with this team and continuing our support of the military community for many years to come.”

“We are very excited to have the support of a team like the Nationals, whose players, coaches and executives have proven time and time again how committed they are to the military,” said head coach and founder David Van Sleet. “In addition, partnering with the Nationals gives our players a greater platform from which to motivate others to overcome adversity in their own lives. Our partnership with the Nationals is a perfect fit for us and for the baseball community.”

They met pre-game with many of the Nationals, shaking hands, taking pictures and talking baseball. The soldiers looked at guys like Stephen Strasburg with awe while the players looked back at them in the same manner.

“I’m definitely biased to those guys,” Gomes said. “It definitely could have been me if one or two things had gone differently.”

Gomes was in a fatal car accident when he was 16 years old, losing his best friend in the accident. As another result of the accident, Gomes dealt with back problems through his teenage years as his body continued to grow. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to handle the 70 or 80-pound backpack drills they’d do in boot camp for the marines. He was looking into ways to bypass that when the Tampa Bay Rays came calling.

“They just drafted me on potential,” Gomes said. “It’s why I play the game the way I do. I’m so grateful that I am able to play and knowing where I could have been or what I could have been doing — or if I even still would have been here.”

Gomes wears the words USO on the back of his cleats, with his uniform number, and he auctions them off to help raise money for the USO, which he got involved with when he was playing in Cincinnati.

“I just try to do whatever I can to help,” he said.

Here is the roster for the Wounded Warrior team:

 

#POSNAMEHOMETOWNBRANCH OF SERVICEWAR
303BSaul BosquezNashua, NHU.S. ArmyIraq
11PTom CarloHarrisburg, PAU.S. MarinesGlobal War on Terrorism
15CSpanky GibsonLawton, OKU.S. MarinesIraq
342BTim HortonSan Antonio, TXU.S. MarinesIraq
12SSMatt KinseyRockville, INU.S. ArmyAfghanistan
5OFDan LaskoBethlehem, PAU.S. MarinesAfghanistan
33CLee RandlesHolland, OHU.S MarinesGlobal War on Terrorism
9OFGreg ReynoldsDighton, MAU.S. ArmyIraq
7OFBrian UrruelaMorgantown, WVU.S. ArmyIraq
231BJosh WegeCampbellsport, WIU.S. MarinesAfghanistan