Aaron Harang's pitching role with the Reds isn't the only way he uses the word "ace" in his life.
03/21/2008 1:58 PM ET
Reds' Harang all aces
Cincinnati pitcher helps military families
By George Castle / Special to MLBPLAYERS.com
The 6-foot-7 right-hander just got nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award from the Reds in honor of a long list of philanthropic activities. But none is more closer to Harang's heart -- and a whole bunch of military families -- than "Aaron's Aces."
Growing up in the military city of San Diego, Harang knew all about the separation of loved ones due to the call of duty. So he began a program in which spouses and children of service personnel stationed in Iraq could enjoy a Sunday at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, including a meet-and-greet session with Harang in the Reds' bullpen.
About 30 family members get to attend the games. After meeting Harang, who signs autographs, the fans receive T-shirts and vouchers for the concession stands. They are also recognized on the ballpark JumboTron scoreboard in the second inning.
But more importantly, it's three hours of escape from the stress of loved ones having to serve in a combat zone.
"It's very hard [to deal with]," Harang said. "But that's what we look at -- get away for three hours to watch game. A lot of kids have never been to a game. They can be in the bullpen to see the field from our perspective. I've met a lot of nice people.
"I've received stuff from them -- military coins, little plaques and badges, a flag flown over a camp in Iraq. I've had an offer to take me out to an Air Force base near Cincinnati. If we start getting other teams and players involved, we can expand it. It would be great if a bunch of guys got together to do this at different stadiums."
"Aaron's Aces" is one of several ongoing programs players have held for Iraq veterans and their families. The Giants' Barry Zito has his "Strikeouts For Troops" involving scores of players raising money. The Cubs' Ryan Dempster hosts families of Iraq service people at Wrigley Field every Father's Day weekend.
The need is never-ending. Harang would like to expand "Aces" to perhaps 50 people every Sunday game, or even both weekend days.
He has heard heart-warming -- and heartbreaking -- stories.
"One time, I got on the cell phone and talked to a dad in Iraq," Harang said. "He called when his family was at the field. He wanted to talk to me and tell me how much he appreciated me.
"But we've had some tough situations. The father of two kids came home, had health problems and died. I had these kids last week -- their mom could not show up. I had them come back."
Harang has talked to veterans who have repeatedly had to go back into harm's way.
"I've had a number of guys come back, but say they're going back over in a couple of months -- it's their third time over there," he said. "That's amazing, how much you go. They said they're needed there."
Overall, Harang has been buoyed by his efforts.
"You can't put words into it," he said. "It's been a tremendous experience."
For his Clemente award nomination, Harang received $7,500 from Chevy, money that was donated to help build the Miracle League Field for disabled athletes in Cincinnati.
"I'm trying to do a lot with the community," he said. "I'm going to be there for awhile. It's a lot easier to do that stuff. I have a lot of fun with it."