Veterans Day magnifies Ziegler's national pride

Veterans Day magnifies Ziegler's national pride

It's often been said that it takes a tragedy to spark a sense of patriotism in America.

And, usually, that tragedy unfortunately slips away in the distance with time -- until another tragedy or a holiday makes it relevant again.

So on Thursday, Veterans Day, many around the country will find significance in patriotism, possibly for the first time in a while. But for A's pitcher Brad Ziegler, the annual holiday will only magnify a passion for national pride he exudes on an everyday basis.

"There's just not that sense of pride for the freedoms we have," Ziegler said. "There are very few people who feel that passion. I wish people didn't take our country for granted the way they do, because I feel we're so blessed in this nation."

It's a nation he'll soon leave, but only to sojourn to ones in which American troops are stationed, to converse and swap stories with them, to tell them they're appreciated.

Ziegler, who has several relatives with military backgrounds, is slated to spend a week's time with troops in the Middle East around the second week of December -- a time that was carefully mapped out by the A's reliever.

"I've requested the time slot specifically because it's halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas," he explained. "I feel like those are the two times out of the year it's really difficult to be away from your family. I really can't imagine being half a world away and risking your life all the time while your family is sitting at home, having these times of gathering, and you're not there."

Sure, Ziegler knows all about separation from family -- every Major League baseball player does as a result of a schedule that calls for 162 games, half of them on the road. But Ziegler also knows he's rather lucky, too. His time in other cities never comes without safety. In fact, the norm is luxury.

"I feel like I get to interact with my family a whole lot more than they're able to," he said. "I know they get to talk on the phone and video chat, too, but not near the level of freedom I have. At any point I could buy a plane ticket for my family to come and see me, whereas they don't have that option. They know, when they're shipped overseas, they won't have any personal interaction with their family for a long period of time."

Ziegler understands his presence won't make up for all that's been lost by the soldiers -- Christmas-tree shopping with the family, talk of school and work and dreams at the dinner table, birthdays and even births. He simply wants to lend them a boost of morale, whether that be through a game of catch or other activity.

"Whatever makes them happy, whatever brings a smile to their face," Ziegler said. "I want to give them a sense of back home. I feel it can be beneficial to them, and I know it will be very emotional for me. It's something I'm very honored to do because of the respect I have for the people who are serving for our country.

"I hope some of them can open up about their family, because I want to know some of the emotions they're going through so I can get a little better understanding of what it's like from their perspective."

This is not the first time Ziegler's reached out to troops. The 31-year-old pitcher has been active in his support for the military since his big league arrival in 2008. Those efforts took a large step forward this season when he created the foundation Pastime for Patriots, through which he's distributed thousands of A's tickets to military personnel and their families.

By way of the charity, Ziegler plans on making his purchase of baseball tickets for these families an ongoing endeavor, one he hopes expands through several other Major League parks as quickly as possible.

December's initiative, aided by the Armed Forces Entertainment organization, will mark Ziegler's first significant overseas trip. Other than his days spent in Toronto when the A's have played guests to the Blue Jays, Ziegler's only other experience out of the country was a short trip to Aruba for a baseball tournament years ago.

"The people I'm seeing, these are people who are doing what they're doing to protect our freedom, to protect our citizens," he said. "It's a whole lot more than a vacation to Europe -- not that we can't have fun, but there's a different tone to this trip. I think that's what makes it so surreal."

Ziegler's seemingly charmed life as a professional ballplayer will never stray from the belief system on which he was raised by parents Greg and Lisa. That very structure includes a strong dose of pride for a country in which he's grateful not only for his Christian religion but also just for the chance to believe in such.

"The opportunities we have as Christians are kind of parallel to opportunities we have as Americans," he said. "A lot of what we have in America when it comes to religious freedoms is because of our soldiers. I know religion is kind of a touchy subject with a lot of people, and I don't want to be a brow-beater on the subject at all, but the fact that we can make choices in that area is something a lot of people in other countries don't get."

So, Ziegler will thank the troops for that opportunity, and for the countless others. On Thursday, he'll do so when watching Veterans Day parades on television. Every day after and then some, he'll do so through his charity efforts. And in December, he'll do so in person.

"This is so far above and beyond anything I've ever done or dreamed of," he said. "It's something I've never done and likely won't get to do ever again. Because of that, I'm going to try to make the most of this one opportunity."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.