PARKER, Colo. (CBS4)– A special umpiring school is helping wounded Marines rekindle their love for baseball and adjust to civilian life. Fourteen Marines from across the country took part in the nine day camp at Double Angel Field in Parker this summer.
Retired Marine Sgt. Clayton McDaniel was one of the participants. He played baseball all his life growing up in Oregon.
“I never missed a season when I was a kid,” he said.
But when he joined the Marines in 2006, baseball was something that had to wait. While serving in Afghanistan, a blast from an improvised explosive device injured his hips.
“When I left the Marine Corps I didn’t think I had a baseball future left in me,” he said.
But it was the injury that actually brought McDaniel back to baseball, not as a player but as an umpire.
At the camp, some of the Marines had gunshot wounds, injured limbs or suffered trauma from IED’s. Others had injuries that weren’t so apparent.
“All of our marines here have PTSD, the majority are dealing with TBI, which is traumatic brain injury,” explained umpire Jimmy Craig, who runs the camp. Craig served in Somalia and now umpires college baseball games.
“This gives them the ability to fit into a civilian role and get out of that combat role.” A transition Craig said he’s been through.
“I also have had things that I needed to deal with and baseball helped me with that,” he said.
Umpire Ken Weikle helped bring the camp to Colorado.
“What it has really done is give them an escape,” said Weikle, a retired Jefferson County English teacher.
He believes umpiring brings back the brotherhood that Marines crave, “It’s the same Semper Fi mentality and they found it in umpiring and we didn’t know we had it until they told us.”
McDaniel said he had an immediate bond with the other Marines at camp, “We’ve all done certain things, but being in baseball creates an even bigger bond.”
He says umpiring schools was a way to return to a game he loves. But for other Marines, umpiring school has meant much more.
“One of them said it has saved his life,” recalled Weikle. “What it has done is save a lot of our lives, too.”
The goal is for the Marines to return home ready to umpire games.
“To have one of these step out on the field with me as a fellow brother umpire would be a dream come true,” said Craig, who also has hopes for them as individuals.
“I hope that their days are brighter. I hope they sleep at night better than they sleep now. I hope that the nightmares and the tremors go away over time.”