DANVILLE — A lifelong athlete, Army Sgt. B.T. Urruela thought he would never play sports again after he lost his leg below the knee from injuries he suffered in 2006 when two improvised explosive devices hit his Humvee in 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Today, Urruela can compete in just about any sport alongside able-bodied athletes. He plays golf, football, baseball and softball, lifts weights and goes snowboarding.
"It's not even about winning or losing. It's just about the competition," Urruela said. "It really helps out the mental healing process. I try to compete as much as possible and being able to do it again is really amazing."
Urruela is the pitcher for VETSports' national softball team, a group of wounded warriors like him who will be showcasing their athletic talents this weekend in a three-game softball series against the Danville Police Department and Danville Fire Department at 5 p.m. Saturday at Danville Stadium.
It's the second consecutive year a team of wounded veterans will challenge the Danville police and firefighters in the annual Finest vs. Bravest charity softball event.
The event is free, open to the public and hosted by Danville Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit 11 and Danville Firefighters Local 429 in partnership with Doug Barnett and family. Proceeds from the event go to the Danville AMBUCS chapter's AmTryke program.
Urruela, who spent six years as an infantryman in the Army, now lives in the Tampa, Fla., area, where he works with VETSports, a nationwide non-profit organization that helps veterans overcome their injuries through adaptive sports, physical activity and teamwork.
VETSports' national softball team helps raise funds for the organization's bigger goals as well as raise awareness of the organization's mission, which includes creating a nationwide network of veterans who can help other veterans get the tools or opportunities they need to participate again in athletics. More information about the organization and player profiles for the softball team can be found at http://www.vetsports.org.
The pre-event activities begin at 2:40 p.m. Saturday, when the wounded warriors will be escorted to the stadium. The escort begins at Lynch Road and East Main Street and will include police squad cars, fire trucks, ambulances, members of the Patriot Guard and others. They will roll through the city on a route ending at Danville Stadium around 3 p.m.
Jason Dunavan, one of the event organizers with the Danville chapter of the Illinois Police Benevolent & Protective Association, said the escort will be longer than last year's, which was a memorable moment for the wounded warriors, especially when the escort passed Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, where veterans had lined the street. Dunavan said the public is encouraged to line the route and bring U.S. flags and signs.
This year, the gates at the stadium will open at 3 p.m., allowing the public to watch the teams in batting practice. A home run derby follows, then the softball games start at 5:25 p.m. and fireworks cap the night at 10 p.m.
Additional entertainment includes a K-9 demonstration, and the Danville Heat hockey team will host a chuck-a-puck event. Participants will throw hockey pucks toward home plate. Food and beverages will be available throughout the event, and each person attending will receive a ticket for various raffles of door prizes and donated items.
Last year, the event, which also featured a three-game contest against a team of wounded veterans, drew a crowd of more than 5,000, Dunavan said.
With such a large crowd, Dunavan said there was some congestion in the concession area, so this year, vendors will be selling food in the stands so people have the option of staying in their seats. Also, there will be an entertainment area in the outfield between the stadium's permanent fence and the temporary fence that's put up for the event. Dunavan said people can sit or stand in that grassy area to watch the game, and vendors will be serving out there as well.
Prior to the charity softball games at 5 p.m. Saturday at Danville Stadium, an escort, including police and fire vehicles, will travel through the city to the stadium to kick off the event. Organizers encourage the public to stand along the route with signs and U.S. flags.