'Seats for Soldiers' salutes troops

'Seats for Soldiers' salutes troops

BOSTON -- Army Sgt. Ed Chisholm watched the 2004 World Series from Northern Iraq, cheering on the Red Sox from halfway around the world.

Chisholm, a Massachusetts native, grew up watching the Sox with his family. And although he watches games regularly and has made trips to Fenway Park in the past, he never imagined he'd find himself sitting in the Sox's dugout prior to a baseball game at the old ballpark.

But that's exactly where Chisholm sat before Boston's matchup with Minnesota on Wednesday, because of the Red Sox's Seats for Soldiers program. The Sox initiated the program so that season-ticket holders and Red Sox players could either donate or purchase tickets to the ballgame so that members of the U.S. armed forces could attend.

It was an appreciative gesture to those who served the country, and it certainly went a long way toward making never-imagined fantasies come true.

"It's one of those things you think about and you see people do on TV, but you never think you're actually going to do it," Chisholm said of attending the game and being part of the pregame festivities. "So it's kind of a dream come true to me."

The day included a live pregame satellite feed to soldiers serving at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. The soldiers were able to tell the fans at Fenway Park how much they appreciate the support they feel overseas, and that they look forward to seeing another Red Sox World Series championship come October.

First-pitch honors went to a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, Michelle Saunders, who broke her back in combat while carrying a mortally wounded comrade from a battle site under heavy fire.

Formerly from Chelmsford and Charlestown, Mass., Saunders is a graduate of Northeastern University and was a first team All-America selection as a softball player.

While she joked about just wanting to toss a pitch that didn't hit the dirt, she didn't mince words how happy she was to be part of the day.

"I am so humbled," Saunders said. "This is just awesome. I can't believe what the Red Sox organization and Massachusetts have stepped up to help soldiers."

A warm ovation from those in attendance greeted the troops, who were all members of active duty. Sox players, who normally go through numerous sprinting exercises and other pregame routines, stood idly at the top of the dugout steps to pay tribute.

Others, like pitcher Tim Wakefield, purchased tickets so the troops could make an appearance at Fenway.

"I think if you look today during that ceremony, you'll see a lot of players on that front step who are normally doing their routine," manager Terry Francona said before the game. "Showing some emotion -- showing some appreciation."

Appreciation that certainly didn't go unnoticed by those in uniform.

"It's good to be here," Chisholm said. "We're all here for our own reasons. You know, we want to serve our country and everything else. And it feels nice to have somebody come out and do something like this to say thank you. It's something you thought you'd never be able to do."

Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.