Soldier: ‘This One’s For You’ Cards telecast brings troops a bit of normalcy

ST. LOUIS — Maj. Ryan Loethen pulled over. He’s on the road a lot for his civilian job, and it’s not good to talk and drive. Especially when the subject is as distracting as his Cardinals.

On Thursday, FOX Sports Midwest’s annual “This One’s For You” telecast (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m.) will send a Cardinals baseball game to troops around the world via the the American Forces Network. Loethen, who will help coordinate the event from Busch Stadium this year, knows as well as anyone the importance of the event.

“I grew up watching the Cardinals all the time,” he says. “When you’re over there, everything is high tempo. Everything is important. To have that little bit of lull, that little bit of diversion, that little bit of normalcy. … It’s huge.”

Loethen lives in Jefferson City, but he crisscrosses multiple southern states for his work as a distribution manager for Michelin. He has been employed by the tire company since he left active Army duty in 2000, but the job has twice been put on hold when the husband and father of five was deployed as a member of the Missouri National Guard. He has now been overseas three times.

In 1997 and 1998, he commanded a head detachment for the First Calvary Division (Fort Hood, Texas) while stationed in Tuzla, Bosnia. From 2003 to 2005, by then with the Missouri National Guard, he planned convoys in Iraq. And in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011, he led a military history detachment responsible for documenting the war.

Every trip had a common theme.

Troops from Missouri would track the Cardinals. The team’s ups and downs offered a sense of normalcy on the other side of the world, whether it was following Mark McGwire’s home run race or giving a hard time to fellow soldiers who cheered for the Cincinnati Reds.

“Every day we would check the standings to see where we were at, to see what was going on,” he says.

While stationed at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, Loethen helped organize the 2011 “This One’s For You” broadcast. He made sure the satellite feed ran smoothly and lined up soldiers for on-air interviews that were broadcast back home to families and friends. This year he will be on the other side, joining those who gather at Busch so soldiers can catch a glimpse of them as they watch the game.

The event might seem like a small gesture — until you hear him explain.

“When you are deployed, watching a Cardinals game is like being transported back home,” he says. “It’s like you’re a little kid again in the stands with your dad. You can take your mind off everything else and just be a kid again. The Cardinals are so much more than a baseball team. If there’s any point I can make, that would be it. They mean a lot to everybody, especially the soldiers.”

Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.