Pitcher Mike Hedlund’s Greatest 1971 Success: The Ultimate Veteran’s Day Story

An all-star patriot
from 1971

His 1972 Topps card doesn’t mention it. Oh, the seven complete games and one shutout from 1971 get a sentence, as well as being a 1963 Connie Mack All-Star.

However, I feel that Mike Hedlund’s greatest outing that year came off the field.

I wrote, and he responded with an epic memory:

“In 1971, the USO had tours to Vietnam with pro athletes. This tour had me, Bobby Bonds (Giants), Doc Ellis (Pirates), Mike Kilkenny (Tigers), Nick Colosi (National League umpire) and Jim Enright (Chicago Sun-Times reporter). We spent 2 weeks visiting mostly fire support bases in Vietnam.

It was quite an experience and I’m honored to have been able to do that. Our tour was to visit, talk and basically do whatever we could for those guys and morale.

Most of the soldiers we met were very secluded and sometimes we really had to work to get them to interact with us. It made me really appreciate the country and freedom we have in our country, thanks to the sacrifice our military men and women have made.”

Mike Hedlund is a joy to salute, too. He’s remained devoted to the fans and collectors, more than four decades after his last major league game.

I shared a story with Mike in my letter, too. I said goodbye to a cousin named Dustin Yancey this month in 2005, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Not just on Veterans Day, I’m grateful to all the Dustins, and all the Mikes.

Turk Wendell Wins With U.S. Soldiers

(Photo courtesy Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky)

Turk Wendell, a former major league baseball pitcher, autographs a squishy ball to give out during his visit to Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Oct. 9., 2007. He’s made three visits to war zones, and awaits the call to do more on behalf of American troops!

“I am very sorry for your loss.”

Turk Wendell wasn’t talking baseball. I told him about a hero of mine. My cousin Dustin Yancey, just 22, died in Iraq Nov. 4, 2005. His truck led an Army convoy that couldn’t escape a roadside bomb.

I remember his modest Iowa funeral. I expected to see the streets lined for him. I puzzled over the lack of elected officials who were silent on that day. Not even a city councilman made himself known.

No one understood. I was so happy that Turk Wendell did. I told him about Dustin, because the former pitcher has made three trips overseas to show other soldiers they’re appreciated. Why?

Wendell replied…

“I was very fortunate to go overseas and witness the war firsthand and see what it is really like, not from the B.S. on the news channels. The troops were so impress that myself and the few other ex-big leaguers would put our lives on the line to boost their morale and take their minds off the war, if only for a moment.

I was so touched, I went back to U.S. and went down to enlist myself. But being cold blind, they would only permit me to obtain certain duties, and I wanted to shoot!

So I figured I would just continue to go over whenever they asked me to.

Three trips later, I feel I did nothing in life by playing baseball. The Armed Forces are the real heroes of the U.S.A. Though baseball is America’s game, our Armed Forces should have their own baseball cards!!

Take care and God bless,
Turk Wendell”

Thank you, Turk. Thank you, Dustin.

Coming Wednesday: The message of Charlie Lea

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