MTI's road trip swings through Cooperstown

  • Published
  • By Jose T. Garza III
  • 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs
For one military training instructor here, honoring U.S. veterans and meeting with baseball heroes along a near month-long trek to Ground Zero was an experience he will not soon forget.

Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc, assigned to the 331st Training Squadron, was selected as one of several military ambassadors for the "Heroes of the Diamond" club, a national team chartered with promoting goodwill and military awareness through the sport of baseball.

HOD team members began their tour Jan. 1 from New Orleans, and throughout their journey, continued to display the Ground Zero Flag to thousands of Americans, including service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And though LeBlanc has returned to MTI duty, the team continues its journey across the United States, and is scheduled to arrive at its final destination, Ground Zero, Sept. 11, officials said. There, the flag will be presented and permanently displayed.

As military ambassador for the HOD, LeBlanc met several baseball legends at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., including Pete Rose, Ozzie Smith and Yogi Berra.

"Meeting Yogi Berra was one of the coolest times ever," he said. "He is a baseball legend, and it is not everyday you get to shake the hand of a baseball legend."

The tour included stops in Philadelphia, Morristown, N.C., and Newark, N.Y. The opportunity to meet not only baseball legends, but also families of veterans and the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and hearing their stories made him realize how great life is.

"I always tell my wife and kids that I love them," LeBlanc said. "Life is too precious to let it go to waste."

As proud as he was to carry the flag of the U.S., he said he was just as proud to be wearing the red, white and blue on his chest as part of his HOD baseball uniform.

Every player on the team wears a number that represents a historic day or figure in American history.

"I wear No. 21, which represents the Tomb of the Unknown," he said.

Cutting the trip short and returning home before 9/11 and the tour's end was difficult, but duty called and Airmen must place "service before self," he said.

Still, he hopes he can make it back to New York in September to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

"It was truly a privilege," LeBlanc said about playing on the HOD team. "I was given the freedom to play baseball, and it was an honor to represent the Air Force. I know what the flag means to me and what it represents. I'm proud to be wearing the red, white and blue."