It’s Friday night at the new Toyota Field in Madison. A crowd of up to 1,000 continues filing in for this 9/11 tribute.

The guests of honor, members of the USA Patriots amputee softball team, are seated at a table on the concourse inside the stadium signing autographs. They are former service members who lost limbs in combat and this is their annual visit to the local area for softball competition.

Josh Wege, a USA Patriots outfielder, has made every trip through the years.

“Every time I come here it’s like a whole different place. I mean this place is booming,” Wege, a former Marine from Wisconsin who now resides at Fort Myers, Florida, said. “The guys love coming here. I love coming here.”

Fellow outfielder Rick Wilk, from Galveston, Texas, said this is his favorite stop “hands down.”

“You never feel right at home more than the city of Huntsville,” Wilk said. “You feel welcome and loved here.”

Their opponents for this year’s exhibition game were the BeArded WARRIORs, a team of veterans, first responders and law enforcement who all reside in the Huntsville area.

The USA Patriots edged the BeArded WARRIORs 16-15 in a spirited game where the final score was secondary on this night.

“It was a great game,” USA Patriots coach Randall Raper, from Hackleburg which is in Marion County, said. “When we got behind, the main message was ‘You’re veterans. Don’t quit.’ And they didn’t. They picked it up. It was a great effort for our first event in six months.”

Raper retired from the Air Force in 2011 as a chief master sergeant after 30 years of service. Based in Norfolk, Virginia, the USA Patriots last played an exhibition in North Dakota before the pandemic hit in the spring.

Saul Monroy, the shortstop and cleanup hitter from El Paso, Texas, went 3-for-4 with a run-scoring double and three runs scored. This was his third visit.

“The game was amazing,” Monroy said. “The hospitality and the love we got from Huntsville was just amazing. It was an honor to get to play today and the love and appreciation for our veterans tonight. It was beautiful to play on Sept. 11th.”

Jim “Hitman” Myers, a local senior softball legend, was the winning pitcher.

The BeArded WARRIORs got a two-run homer from Michael Cramblit, of Huntsville Fire Department, and a big double from Kenny Adams, of Huntsville Police Department. Brandon Hartzog, a former Marine, took the loss.

Garrett Coker, a former Army captain, was player/coach for the BeArded WARRIORs.

“What an absolutely wonderful, wonderful time,” Coker said. “It’s inspiring to share the field with such amazing selfless patriots. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to play here at Toyota Field.

“I can’t think of a better way to spend the anniversary of this date than with my fellow brothers-at-arms.”

Members of both teams stood on the field and watched the postgame fireworks. The USA Patriots were the home team as usual.

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