FARGO — Slowpitch softball has taken Jack Jones to a lot of places that were rewarded with countless memories. He played, managed and was a sponsor for 45 years in a Hall of Fame career that included six national championships.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Actually, it does.
Jones, from Mandan, N.D., is on the Board of Directors of USA Patriots softball, a national team comprised of competitive veterans who have lost limbs in combat and non-combat related injuries.
“The best times I ever spent on a softball field is with these guys,” Jones said. “Just the toughness out there. You cannot have a bad day in your life if you hang around these guys very often.”
The Patriots are making a stop in Fargo this weekend as part of the annual Fargo Classic Softball Tournament at the North Softball Complex in Fargo and Centennial Park in Moorhead. They’re playing an exhibition game against a local team of veterans, policemen and firefighters at 8 p.m. Friday at the Fargo complex.
Admission is free but organizers are asking for a free will donation to help send children with disabilities to the Patriots’ summer camp. It is a testament to all the good the Patriots do with their team.
“The whole team started as a means to rehab themselves and it’s turned into rehabbing those kids,” Jones said. “You see an 8- or 10-year-old kid who in some cases lost both legs and you just can’t sit back and feel sorry for yourself when you see them overcome challenges.”
The team started in 2011 as the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. Jones got involved that same year when he was the tournament director for the annual McQuade tournament in Bismarck. It was the year the Missouri River flooded Bismarck and Mandan and forced the McQuade tourney to cut its field in half.
Moreover, Sunday was rained out so in effect Jones said half the teams that didn’t play were mad and the other half that did play were mad because of the weather.
“I went home that night and told my wife I’ve never worked so hard to accomplish so little,” Jones said. “All of our gate (revenue) was down. The next morning I came to work and my sons says there’s something you have to see.”
It was a story on Bryant Gumble’s “Real Sports” show by Frank Deford about the Warrior softball team. It told the story of amputees from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who picked up the game of softball.
“There was one catch,” Deford said. “They would not play teams of other amputees. They would only play able-bodied teams.” The team was started by David Van Sleet, a Department of Veteran Affairs worker who specializes in prosthetics.
“I just felt like they needed something to help elevate them back into normal life,” Van Sleet said.
Three years later, Jones was able to get the team to Bismarck, where he discovered one of the players lives 30 minutes from his winter home in Florida.
“We became friends and a couple of years later they asked me to be on the board,” he said.
The team is entirely funded through donations. The roster consists of 30 players who rotate between tournament engagements depending on when they can make it. For instance, four-year Patriots member Chris Hutton from Grand Forks will play this weekend.
Jones said the team does about 15 events per year. They’ll be in Long Island, N.Y., next weekend and back in North Dakota at the McQuade in two weeks.
“They play a pretty fair brand of ball,” Jones said.