Play ball! Clearwater, Fla. Coast Guardsman; not an ordinary softball player

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As the sun slowly fades behind the score board, the players are scattered on the field and in the dugouts. Although it is December, the Florida air is warm and humid. The announcer’s voice bellows over the stadium as he introduces the home team.

“VETSports, number 84,” the voice echoes, “Robert Somers, Coast Guard.”

On cue, the players take their places one-by-one as the crowd cheers. Their faces glow outshining the bright stadium lights. They turn and face the colorguard, remove their hats and place their hands over their hearts while the national anthem is sung. These men are not ordinary softball players; this is not an ordinary softball game.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Robert D. Somers, a damage controlman at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., hits a pitched ball during the VETSports 2nd Annual St. Petersburg, Fla., Softball Series at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. VETSports team members are disabled active and reserve veterans that participate in sports, physical activity and community involvement in an effort to ease the transition back to a civilian lifestyle. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Meredith A. Manning)

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Robert D. Somers, a damage controlman at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., hits a pitched ball during the VETSports 2nd Annual St. Petersburg, Fla., Softball Series at Al Lang Stadium (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Meredith A. Manning)

VETSports team members are disabled active and reserve veterans that participate in sports, physical activity and community involvement in an effort to ease the transition back to a civilian lifestyle. Among these players is Petty Officer 1st Class Robert D. Somers, a damage controlman at Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Florida. Somers has been involved in both the Tampa Bay and the National VETSports teams for approximately three years.

He joined the Tampa Bay VETSports team shortly after the non-profit organization was established in 2012. As a member of the local team, he began hosting and participating in annual events across the state such as golf, softball and volleyball tournaments. Over the past three years, he has been instrumental in organizing new teams and events and building relationships with local communities.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Robert D. Somers, a damage controlman at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., is shown with Rhylee Brown, a member of The Miracle League, at the 2nd Annual St Petersburg, Fla., Softball Series at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. VETSports team members work with organizations, such as The Miracle League, who cater to children with mental and physical disabilities. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Meredith A. Manning)

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Robert D. Somers, a damage controlman at Air Station Clearwater, Fla., is shown with Rhylee Brown, a member of The Miracle League, at the 2nd Annual St Petersburg, Fla., Softball Series at Al Lang Stadium. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Meredith A. Manning)

“VETSports team members have helped create a more loveable community by getting citizens involved and engaged with our veterans,” said Dan Liedtke, a council member for the City of Gulfport.

Months after joining the local team, Somers was invited to join the National VETSports Softball team. As the pitcher for the national team, he travels every 2-3 months to participate in softball tournaments and introduce VETSports to different communities. While traveling, the players volunteer at children’s hospitals and with organizations such as The Miracle League, a nonprofit baseball organization which caters to children with mental and physical disabilities, and Kiwanis International Foundation, an international coeducational service club.

“Being able to run around the bases with some of the kids from The Miracle League and see their faces is a very rewarding thing,” he said. “They have smiles on their faces from the time they get there until the time they leave.”

His involvement with VETSports has allowed him to make a difference in children’s lives while developing camaraderie with the other players. As wounded and disabled veterans the players experience many of the same challenges while transitioning out of the military. In fact, Somers said he chose to join VETSports to allow him to interact with fellow wounded veterans.

The Tampa Bay VETSports team poses for a group picture at the 2nd Annual St Petersburg, Fla., Softball Series at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014. VETSports team members are disabled active and reserve veterans that participate in sports, physical activity and community involvement in an effort to ease the transition back to a civilian lifestyle. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Meredith A. Manning)

The Tampa Bay VETSports team poses for a group picture at the 2nd Annual St Petersburg, Fla., Softball Series at Al Lang Stadium. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Meredith A. Manning)

“I can relate to these guys on a personal level, dealing with mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety,” Somers said. “VETSports allows me to get together with brothers of the military who have been through traumatic experiences.”

While working with VETSports, he has been afforded opportunities including local and national volunteer work and community involvement. Perhaps most importantly, it has given him the chance to surround himself with those to whom he relates the most.

“VETSports is a huge family and I am happy and privileged to be a part of it,” said Somers.

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