HAGERSTOWN —Chris Grienert doesn’t get home often.
As a professional softball player, Grienert left Southern Maryland for his chance to be paid to play in the Men’s Major Softball Conference in Wyoming.
But Grienert will put it all on hold on Saturday. He’s coming to Hagerstown to hit some balls, like he usually does, in the third annual Hub City/Maryland Softball Show/Greene Turtle Home Run Derby at Municipal Stadium.
The competition is the incentive, but coming to meet Kevin Jaye is the reason.
“Guys are coming in from all over to participate,” said Doug Levine, Hub City Softball League president and one of the home run derby’s organizers. “It is a big deal to come back and hit in Municipal Stadium and there is pride in winning it.
“But most of them want to be here to have their picture taken with Kevin.”
For Greinert and at least 40 other heavy-hitting softball players, the chance to attack the fences on a professional baseball diamond is enticing, but for many, so is meeting Jaye.
Proceeds from the derby will go to Jaye, a PFC in the Army 3rd Infantry Division. Jaye, of Smithsburg, is home ahead of the rest of his division after stepping on the pressure plate of an IED during his tour in Afghanistan, which exploded and blew off his right leg just under the knee.
Jaye, a 25-year-old Smithsburg native, is a 2005 graduate of Washington County Techical High School. He is the third local serviceman to be chosen as a benfactor from the home run derby, after Marine Sgt. Justin A. Langlotz of Hagerstown in 2010 and Marine Lance Cpl. Ian Boyer of Smithsburg in 2011.
This time it will be different, though.
“The first two times we did this, we had to go through the parents to get to the soldiers,” Levine said. “We didn’t get to meet them until months later. This time, we met Kevin and he is going to get a liberal liberty pass to be at the event.”
The derby has an entirely different feel after Levine, along with co-organizers Lewie Thomas and Gary Lum, met Jaye last week at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“He is missing a leg, his other leg was severely broken, his ear drum was ruptured and he lost a finger,” Levine said. “I have never seen anyone in that kind of shape. Yet, he sat there as humble as could be with a smile on his face.
“He looked at us and said, ‘I’m one of the lucky ones.’ He said there were others there rehabbing from far worse injuries. It all really hit home for us.”
The money from the first two events went to buy products to send to Langlotz and Boyer and their platoons to use where they were stationed. There was a plethora of peanut butter, beef jerky, baby wipes and plastic bags — among other things — for them.
This time, it will be different.
“We told Kevin that the money will be his to do whatever he wants,” Levine said. “It wasn’t that he didn’t want to send it to his buddies, but he knew they would be deployed home before we could do everything. He didn’t want anything for himself.”
Instead, Jaye will donate the money to a Wounded Warrior charity in his name.
“This is a Catch-22 for us,” Levine said. “We are glad he is home and that he will be here, but we hate to see him in the shape he’s in.”
But it is more incentive to put on a good show and raise more money.
The gates at Municipal Stadium will open at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
Action will start with an exhibition softball game between the Maryland Softball Show and Off the Handle Sports Country Boys, which is made up of local players. AMVETS Post 10 honor guard will present the colors.
The home run derby will begin at 6. Each player will 10 swings, including two “wastes” to be used to pass on pitches not to their liking.
The will be hitting Stadium Launch balls, which are harder than normal softballs. Players from here, Baltimore and Virginia will take their shots at clearing the 19-foot wall in center field that is 400 feet from home plate. The field measures 335 feet down each foul line.
The contest is advertised on softball websites and there will be cash prizes for the top hitters.