Team Missouri’s spirits were down after a loss to Team Canada in Special Olympics World Games softball Monday. In stepped Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who had spent his off day watching Special Olympics softball at UCLA’s Easton Stadium.
After seeing the Missouri players fall to Canada, Turner decided to speak with the team.
“It really made the morale of our team come up that day because we were having a bad day the day before,” said Team Missouri’s Jeremy Tucker. “We only lost by a few runs but we killed ourselves with mental errors. The morale just shot straight through the roof (when Turner spoke to us).”
The team’s new energy from Turner’s visit helped it with its win against India on Tuesday, and that night the team enjoyed a trip to the Dodgers game at the invitation of Turner and the Dream Center.
“Going to Dodger Stadium was probably the most awesome experience that I’ve ever had,” said Team Missouri player Nicholas Short.
Before the game, a 2-0 win by the visiting Oakland A’s, the Missouri players had the chance to meet Dodgers like center fielder Joc Pederson, manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Mark McGwire, a former St. Louis Cardinals star.
“We were excited to meet them,” said Jeremy Tucker’s brother and teammate, Justin Tucker. “And they were excited to meet us and that made it even cooler.”
The Missouri players earned some new fans at the Dodgers game as well by handing out their baseball cards, which feature their pictures and some of their favorite activities.
“There was a little boy and a girl who were probably about 5, 6 years old and we handed them our cards and it meant their whole night,” Justin Tucker said. “They lit up like a Christmas tree, which we thought was cool.”
Short said the trip to Los Angeles for the Games has been a great experience.
“Just being here, it’s been a blast,” Short said. “Everybody’s been really cool and really nice.”
Team Missouri draws players from all across the state, but the team comes together once a month for a full weekend of practice, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
“Once we got together, that’s all we did was practice, work on our fundamentals,” Jeremy Tucker said.
The drill-filled weekends are plenty of fun though, said Short, because the players are such good friends, many of them having known each other for 15 to 20 years.
The longtime friends from Missouri have made a new one this week in Turner, connecting over a love for the sport even if their beloved St. Louis Cardinals have knocked Turner’s Dodgers out of the playoffs each of the past two years.
“(The Special Olympics World Games) is inspirational,” Turner said. “You see … how much these guys love the game and how much fun they have … it really puts it in perspective for someone who plays every day – that it is a game to be enjoyed.”