Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor baseball honors local military families in Tribute to Our Troops game at Cheney Stadium

Gig Harbor second baseman Cole Smith, right, presents his jersey April 28 to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, a retired Army soldier who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008 during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Gig Harbor second baseman Cole Smith, right, presents his jersey April 28 to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, a retired Army soldier who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008 during Operation Enduring Freedom. Courtesy

Gig Harbor may have lost to South Kitsap, 4-1, in the third annual Tribute to Our Troops baseball game at Cheney Stadium April 28, but the game was always going to be bigger than the final score.

The game, hosted by the Elton Goodwin Memorial Foundation, honors local military through baseball. Each player on both teams wore the name of a local military member on the back of their custom camouflage jerseys.

After the game concluded, players presented the jerseys to the military members, or the family members of fallen soldiers.

“That’s what this game is all about,” said Gig Harbor second baseman Cole Smith. “It’s just such a cool thing to honor someone who has done more than anyone here, served our country and protected us. It’s just such a cool thing. Words can’t even really describe it. It’s such an honor just to honor them.”

Smith was honoring Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient. He was also honoring his grandfather, Dave Smith, who served in the Navy and Coast Guard.

Gig Harbor starting pitcher Grant Hassan shared his teammate’s sentiments.

“It’s huge,” Hassan said. “A lot of these players have parents, family members in the military. It’s just huge, how big of an impact the military has on everyone’s families and how many people we can get out to support that.”

Now in year three, the event hasn’t lost any of its luster for Gig Harbor coach Pete Jansen, who was honoring Bob Ouimet, the late husband of one of his neighbors.

“We’re going to be giving the jersey to his wife,” Jansen said. “She’s a good friend. It’s real special. Just looking at all the people that got honored. They were excited to be recognized with their family members.”

As far as the game went, Gig Harbor struggled to get the bats going in the early innings. Gig Harbor managed just three hits in the first four innings off starting pitcher Garrison Glisson. All told, Gig Harbor tagged Glisson for one run over 5 and 1/3 innings.

“We struggled early on,” Smith said. “I thought we should’ve attacked the fastball a little earlier in counts. We started to hit the fastball a little better later in the game. We turned it on at the end but we didn’t have enough early.”

Jansen thought the Tides had a good approach at the plate, despite the lack of run production.

“We only had two strikeouts,” Jansen said. “Everyone was putting the ball in play. We had five games this week, so we had a great week. We really cut down on strikeouts, people were really putting the ball into play and swinging at hitters’ pitches, not pitchers’ pitches.”

Another bonus was that everyone who suited up got to play, as Jansen made substations throughout the game. Being a non-league contest, Jansen wanted all the players to experience playing at Cheney Stadium.

“Anytime a kid gets to play at Cheney Stadium, it’s really nice,” Jansen said. “So the plan was to get everybody in the game.”

That including a starting spot for Grant Hassan, who hasn’t seen a ton of innings on the mound this season. Hassan pitched four innings, giving up three runs but working out of several jams to limit the damage.

“I felt like I could’ve performed better, but I felt like when I got into some jams, I got out of them,” Hassan said. “I was able to work hard through that. I felt mentally strong. It’s a tough ball club over there and I felt like I pitched well against some of their stronger hitters.”

Playing South Kitsap, a traditionally strong Class 4A baseball program, can only be a bonus for Gig Harbor heading into the postseason.

“It’s necessary preparation,” Hassan said. “Especially because some of the teams we play in our league aren’t anywhere near this. I feel like it’s huge to have a game like that. … I haven’t really pitched against a team like that. Just to get that experience and know how good you have to be to play those teams is big.”

As far as playing a game in the Tacoma Rainiers’ stadium, it sure beat the soggy field at Gig Harbor High.

“I love going here and just looking out in the field,” Hassan said. “Even the away bullpen is better than any bullpen I’ve seen. That’s pretty cool. Just getting a huge amount of people to come out here. It’s fun to see everyone that comes out and supports the team.”

The rain started coming down late in the game, but it didn’t dampen the game’s spirit.

“(Cheney) is a super cool place to play,” Smith said. “We had a pretty good crowd here. I thought the coolest part was coming out here to honor the military.”