Petco Park offered a packed line-up of events Sunday during its Military Opening Day, including appearances by actor and military advocate Gary Sinise and a wounded Marine who biked all the way across the country. Oh yeah, and then there was some Padres baseball.
First up to bat, Sinise – a.k.a Lieutenant Dan to you “Forrest Gump” fans – was recognized for his foundation’s work with veterans.
“I've just interacted with the military community for so long and been involved with supporting our wounded since I played a wounded veteran in 'Forrest Gump' that I just can't stop,” said Sinise.
The Gary Sinise Foundation is working to build two Smart Homes in San Diego for severely wounded veterans and their families.
The homes are designed to help the service members lead more independent lives.
One will be going to triple amputee Nick Kimmel, who said he got to pick out the Pine Valley plot of land on which his specially designed house will sit.
“It will make everything so much easier, like doing laundry or getting stuff out of the fridge or the stovetops that lower – just stuff that you couldn’t remodel to get. You’d actually have to design into it, and that’s what Gary does,” said Kimmel.
For Sinise, the foundation’s work is about raising awareness and giving back to those who have given so much to their country.
"There's a lot of need after a dozen years of war, and we're just trying to pitch in and help out," Sinise said.
Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will be back to perform at Petco Park on July 6 as a fundraiser for wounded veterans.
Sinise, Kimmel and two other home recipients joined service members from all branches on the field Sunday as the Navy Band Southwest performed the National Anthem.
But the ceremonial first pitch went to another guest of honor: Marine Combat Engineer Rob Jones, a double amputee who rode into Petco Park on the same bike that took him across the country.
On Saturday, Jones completed a six-month journey from Maine to California as a fundraiser for wounded veterans like himself. He lost both legs in an IED explosion while on deployment to Afghanistan in 2010.
As if riding so far isn’t impressive enough, the 28-year-old Jones did it without the use of his lower legs.
Unlike able-bodied cyclists who rely on their calves and quadriceps to pedal, he could only use his gluteal muscles.
Jones told NBC 7 the chance to throw the first pitch was a great recognition of his service.
"It makes it feel like it's all worth it. You don't want to go somewhere and sacrifice this really big chunk of your life and then come back and realize it was all for nothing. And so letting people know that they're sacrifice is appreciated and it was for something is a big thing," said Jones.
He raised about $115,000 on his ride, but he will continue to leave his website up for people who want to continue to donate to Ride 2 Recovery, Semper Fi Fund and Coalition to Salute America's Heroes.
Among the packed stands were roughly 1,500 people who received free tickets through local military nonprofits, donated by Northrop Grumman.
Throughout the season, military personnel and first responders can get $6 off any ticket above $13 for all regular season home games, and $10 tickets are available for all Sunday home games for service members and their families.
As for Sunday’s game, the Padres outperformed the Detroit Tigers for the second time this week, winning the game 5-1 and the series 2-1.