Visiting injured veterans meant a lot to Red Sox

Visiting injured veterans meant a lot to Red Sox

BALTIMORE -- The visit to the White House was clearly the headline portion of the off-day the Red Sox had on Tuesday, but the trip to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later in the day was perhaps the most meaningful.

Seeing wounded soldiers without limbs and countless other misfortunes put things in perspective in a hurry. By coincidence, the Boston Celtics were at the facility during the same time as the Red Sox.

"I think that was the better part of my day, to be able to go over there," said Mike Napoli. "To be able to get their mind off of what their struggles were for a couple of minutes, to be able to talk to them and thank them for what they've done for us. I think, for me, that made my day. It just topped off everything to be able to do that."

While Jonny Gomes stood out with the American flag sports coat he wore to the White House, the soldiers confirmed to the outfielder that his attire was perfect.

"I don't know much of the [publicity] -- positive or negative -- going into it, but at the end of the day, what the troops said to me at Walter Reed was pretty awesome," said Gomes. "I got more thank yous for that from these guys and they sacrifice health and limbs for what that flag stands for at the end of the day. Like I said, I didn't try to make any statement or anything. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to do it again."

The visit was a chilling reminder for Gomes, given the fact he nearly chose the path of military service.

"I think it's a little different for me with my past," said Gomes. "In 2001, I had two contracts on my table, one from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the other for the Marines. I always put myself in a position to think, 'Which one of those guys would have been me? Would it be the tombstone? Would it be the guy who is the double amputee? Would it be a guy who is still over there?'"

For David Ortiz, it was his third trip to Walter Reed after winning a World Series. But this visit meant just as much to him as the others.

"Unbelievable," Ortiz said. "This one young guy, he's like 26 right now, he got both his legs blown up by a bomb. His spirit was so good. Me, [Dustin] Pedroia and some of the Celtics players, we were around him and we were looking at each other like, 'Seriously?' There's many people complaining about stupid things in life and look at this guy. I think the best thing that ever happened to me was to go and look at this guy. I guarantee you that made me a better human being.

"He was so excited to watch us and see him in the hospital, it was unbelievable. I had a really good time there yesterday visiting the veterans and getting to hang out with them. It was a good thing for all of us, to see how excited they got to see us. I think every single athlete should go out there and hang out with these people. It would give them a good moment of happiness. This guy was sitting down, with no legs and he was acting like he was the happiest guy on the planet earth because of the fact we were all there and hanging out with him. That was awesome."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.