“Barack Wasn’t Near So I Couldn’t Say Hi”

I don’t know why, but for some reason there’s one memory that sticks in my head from my time working with the Buffalo Bisons. Well, there are a lot of memories, but this one is among them…

New York Mets pitcher Dillon Gee, then a prospect, looked at me as he got on the bus for a roadtrip.  “Where’s Lehigh Valley?” Gee said.  I grew up in Allentown, PA, so to me that seemed like a silly question.  “Seriously, where is it?” Gee followed.  “I’m from Texas.”

That brings us to Pelicans first baseman Brett Nicholas, well traveled, but new to the east coast.  Nicholas is from Phoenix, AZ.  He went to college at Gonzaga and Missouri and played last season mostly in Spokane.  So bottom line, he’s really never explored this part of the county.

So that’s why Nicholas ventured out during the recent 10-game Pelicans roadtrip.  See, the trip began in Woodbridge, VA, about a half hour outside of Washington, DC.  Wanting to explore, Nicholas and pitcher Ben Rowen took their Saturday morning and headed to the nation’s capitol.

Nicholas stopping by the White House

“I’m from Arizona,” Nicholas said.  The biggest thing we’ve got is a giant hole in the ground (Grand Canyon).  So it’s nice to go see a bunch of history.  You vote every four years, but you don’t really see where it gets to go.  It’s something cool where you get to say ‘this is where the people that are working for me go, or working for the people of Arizona.'”Of course, though, there is a lot to see in DC…and it was kind of amusing listening to Nicholas try to sort it out and prioritize.”Isn’t there a museum there?” Nicholas said to me at batting practice.

“The Smithsonian?” I replied.

“Yeah, that one,” Nicholas said.  “The one from Night at the Museum.”

“The Smithsonian is 19 museums,” I finished with.

Nicholas and Rowen ended up heading to the Museum of Natural History, where both players took pictures with various things they recognized from the Ben Stiller movie, including the giant T-Rex skeleton.  That, however, was only a small part of their voyage.

“We got to see the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the White House,” Nicholas said.  “The incredible part was the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the World War II.  Even getting to go to Arlington [was incredible].  It just puts everything in perspective.  You can’t take it for granted what those people have done, giving their lives so that we can enjoy a great game like baseball.”

Nicholas’ HS football teammate was killed in Iraq

What made the trip more special, however, was a personal connection for Nicholas.  Back home in Arizona Nicholas played football with a classmate named John Daggett.  The duo played next to each other as linebackers on defense.  Their paths split after high school, however.  While Nicholas eventually became a professional baseball player, Daggett joined the armed forces and was killed in action as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It was something special because that’s somebody that I know,” Nicholas said.  “We think everybody’s a lot older in Arlington but really, he was 22 when it happened.  But it was just something special getting the goose bumps to go see.  I’ll never forget that moment.”It was a poignant moment, but one of many on that Saturday morning.  Both Nicholas and Rowen were taken aback by all of the memorials they saw, and the sheer size and scope of the people those monuments represent.

” We saw Arlington has something like 400,000 burials there,” Nicholas said.  “We were at the WWII Memorial and there are gold stars and each star represents 1,000 soldiers.  There were just over 4,000 stars.  So that’s over 400,000 soldiers that gave their lives just in WWII.  Plus in the Vietnam War the names are so small and that wall just goes on forever.  I owe them my life really.”

But there were also some light moments too, like when they stopped by the White House and became a little disappointed in what they did, or didn’t see.

“You’re like half a mile away and you’re looking through trees,” Nicholas lamented.  “Barack wasn’t anywhere near so I couldn’t say hi.  I wanna get closer one day, maybe a World Series title.”

I think the Rangers would be okay with that too.

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