Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center
MLB umpire hits home run with Augusta Veterans
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Major League Baseball umpire Jerry Layne has been behind the dish for some of baseball’s greatest moments. The Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 71st home run. Fernando Valenzuela’s eye rolling no-hitter in 1990. Two World Series. Three All-Star Games.
He also stands behind the nation’s Veterans. Each year, when the Boys of Summer bound back onto the diamond, Layne makes an annual visit to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia. The visit June 28, sponsored by Disabled American Veterans, brought the Prospect, Ohio, native here between games one and two of a three-game series between the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves.
“I look at the efforts of every (Veteran) coming in here and their lives,” Layne said. “What little I can do is go around and say thank you for what they’ve done to make the country the way it is.”
Layne visited with Veterans in Augusta VA’s Blind Rehabilitation and Spinal Cord Injury programs. All told, Layne shook hands, took photos, and talked with about 50 Veterans, handing out autographed photos, baseball cards and making time for conversation.
Tasha Baker-Boone, chief nurse at the Spinal Cord Injury unit, said Layne’s visit was something special.
“It means Americans care about the Veteran population,” Baker-Boone said. “They appreciate and care about the service our Veterans have provided to this country.”
Baseball, Layne said, is “all I’ve ever known,” and as a young man, military service wasn’t in his wheelhouse.
“When I graduated high school in 1976, we were just happy to be out of the Vietnam War era and downsizing the military,” said Layne. “We didn’t even have a recruiting officer come to our school.”
Layne slid into umpire school at age 18. For a dozen years, he called balls and strikes for minor league baseball before being called up to “The Show” in March 1988. He’s been a major league umpire ever since.
He started this process of being a DAV volunteer after discovering a now-retired American League umpire colleague, Larry Barnett, also paid visits to Veteran medical centers. Barnett grabbed Layne and asked if he wanted to come along.
“I told him that I didn’t know if I could do it or not. I didn’t know if I could handle standing over a bed with someone who was not long for the world. I thought something like this would take a special person,” Layne said. “I didn’t know if I was that kind of a special person.”
Fortunately, he was.
“When I got involved, and I went to the hospice units and people’s rooms who are in their final days, I felt good that I could make a difference for that person on that particular day. I really enjoyed it.”
The night before he came here, Layne got injured. During the 8th inning of the first Indians vs. Braves game in Atlanta, a foul-tipped pitch caught Layne on the right side of the head. Fearing he might have a concussion, MLB replaced him that inning.
Despite the injury less than 24 hours before, he made the two-hour trek to the Central Savannah River Area. In doing so, he noted that baseball and military service are, in many ways, tied together throughout the history of the game.
“That’s why we’ve always considered baseball like Apple Pie,” Layne said, “Major League Baseball has always understood the Veterans. It knows major baseball stars have spent time off the field being on active duty. Ted Williams, for instance. Veterans have always been an important group to baseball going back a long ways to troops abroad and overseas listening and watching baseball games from back then to now.”