Special game during Armed Forces Tribute Day
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Saturday was a double-header day of sorts at Angels Stadium.
In the opener, the Angels reversed a 4-0 deficit to beat the Chicago White Sox, 12-9. But the real comeback came in the late afternoon, a continuation of Armed Forces Tribute Day at the Big A.
It was the debut of the Purple Heart Baseball game, a three-inning affair won by the team representing Fort Sam Houston, which defeated Camp Pendleton 20-10.
It was part of the festivities that took place on Armed Forces day in Anaheim, but it was much more than a ceremonial game among combat veterans.
There’s the compelling tale of Daniel “Doc” Jacobs, a double-amputee who has undergone more than 50 surgeries since being injured in the Iraq War while fighting with the Navy.
He lost his left leg below the knee, along with toes on his right foot and parts of fingers, yet on February 28, he was given a tryout with the Dodgers prior to a game at their Camelback Ranch spring training site.
A real tryout for a real 27-year-old who will not let tragedy and setbacks get in the way of his dream to play professionally.
“Oh, I’m still going for it,” Jacobs said as he prepared for the Saturday game. “Once my (first child) is born in August I have every intention of getting back to preparing full-time for tryouts. I want to play in the majors — it’s something I’ve wanted my whole life — and I made the decision that I’m going to take it as far as I can.
“We’ll see what happens.”
What makes the story of the young man’s dream even more amazing is that he made the decision to keep going for it through a haze of alcohol and sleeping pills. While he was fighting to keep his dream alive, he was killing himself through addiction.
“No doubt,” said Jacobs. “The amount of pills I was taking and the alcohol I was drinking, well, it should have probably killed me.
“It wasn’t just about dealing with pain or getting high to get high. I was having a lot of trouble with (phantom pain) in the leg I had amputated, and it was nearly impossible for me to sleep. I decided to combine the pain medication and alcohol and I finally was able to get some rest. But it got way out of control and I had to stop before it killed me.”
So, it was off to rehab and in 28 days, he was off the stuff and back on his quest to play baseball.
Jacobs decided to bypass the standard cleanup methods and do it all cold turkey.
It was goodbye to the bottles and hello to a daily workout regimen.
“I felt that if I could redirect my energies to working out hard for 3 to 4 hours a day, I could (beat) the problem with pills and alcohol and hopefully tire myself out enough to be able to sleep at night," Jacobs said.
“Fortunately that’s exactly how it all worked out. And I’m going to be a father and hopefully get a chance to play in the majors. Those two things are what help keep me motivated every day.”
Even if Jacobs doesn’t make it to the show, he’ll be able to add a trading card to his Purple Heart.
Upper Deck announced last month that Jacobs would be honored with a card in its “Goodwin Champions” set that hits the market in early July.
“How cool is that?” Jacobs asked.
And it will be even cooler if he is one day part of a trading card set for injured war veterans who make it to the major leagues.
William Makaafy and Alex Seguritan are also Purple Heart recipients who played in the game. They were injured in a firefight in the Iraqi desert, with Makaafy and Seguritan suffering third degree burns.
“We were waiting in the Green Zone to be (transported) out to a hospital in Germany,” said Makaafy,” and we ended up spending nine months together and getting as close as brothers.
“First, we’re both Polynesian, and that automatically brought us closer together. As Polynesians we stick together. Alex was in a wheelchair and I had trouble using my upper extremities because of the burns, so we kind of helped each other compensate for what the other couldn’t do.”
Then, as happens when a soldier is able to survive devastating wounds, the two young men started healing and ended up going back to their lives. They hadn’t had contact for over five years.
Until Friday night.
A dinner honoring the Purple Heart soldiers was held, and for the first time in half a decade, Will and Alex were reunited in a very emotional moment.
“It was unbelievable to be back with my brother after all that time,” said Makaafy. “I know we’re not blood, but it doesn’t matter. To me, it feels like we are.”
“I feel the exact same way — we’re brothers. It was really cool to see him again because everyone knew it was going to happen — except me. Will had found me and set it up and all the other guys managed to keep it quiet.
“I’m so happy to see him. He’s healthier. I’m getting healthier. We came here to play in a game, but in the end the best thing was getting to see my brother again.”