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Police Officer and Marine 2012 US Military Baseball Police Officer and Marine 2012 US Military Baseball

Josh Leo, Austin Ingraham, Tyler White, James Brienza, Derrick Phillips and a group of others highlighted the exciting on-field baseball game

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Local officer gets chance to play for U.S. Military All-Stars

GASTONIA — Talk about being at the right place at the right time.
James Brienza, a Gaston County police officer, was on duty Saturday in Belmont when he spotted the U.S. Military All-Stars RVs. Not only did he help secure the team a safe place to park, but he earned an invitation to play in Saturday's exhibition baseball game against the Gastonia Grizzlies.

"I was in the Marine Corps and they asked me if I wanted to play tonight," Brienza said. "I jumped on it."

The U.S. Military All-Stars is a barnstorming team whose mission is to promote awareness and support for Wounded Warriors. The team was established in 1990 at the request of President George Herbert Walker Bush.

The team had an extra uniform for sutuations like this that read "Catch 22" for Brienza. The 41-year-old entered the game in the third inning, but you'll have to forgive him for grounding out to the second baseman. After all, it's been while since he's picked up a bat, but he has a strong baseball background, having played three years at Trenton State College as a pitcher and first baseman.

Brienza served four years in the Marine Corps and has been a police officer for 15 years.

Flag presentation
Saturday's exhibition game was quite a contest, but many of the evening's highlights happened away from the game.

One of the biggest moments happened during the pregame festivities when local native Ray Sigmon Jr. was presented the American flag that was present at Ground Zero when President George W. Bush delivered his famous Bullhorn Speech following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.S. Military All-Stars have presented the flag to thousands of local heroes in ceremonies all over the world.

Sigmon, 31, is a Bessemer City native who currently serves in the U.S. Army at the Gastonia recruiting center. Sigmon has received the Bronze Star among other numerous awards and decorations.

"It's a great honor because I love knowing that I wear the flag on my shoulder every day," Sigmon said. “The flag has more meaning than just being cloth."

Sigmon entered active duty in 1999, the same year he graduated from Bessemer City High School, and has served in Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq (twice) and Kosovo.

Attention-getting uniforms
It came as no surprise that the U.S. Military All-Stars wore camouflage pants. The dark brown jerseys also had a touch of camouflage and red, white and blue numbers with yellow trim to symbolize support for the troops.

Something interesting the U.S. Military All-Stars do with their jerseys is substitute their name with a word or phrase of significance to each player. The jersey numbers also carry special significance and often tie in with the word or phrase.

Some of the more interesting name/number combinations included Ground 0, Colonies 13, Apollo 11, H.W. Bush 41, FDNY-9 11, One Small Step 69. Lincolnton native Zack Koehler wore the number 19 in reference to his 1st Battalion 9th Marines. His jersey also read Deadwalker, another reference to his battalion, which earned the nickname "The Walking Dead" during the Vietnam War.

Local all-star
Lincolnton native Zack Koehler pitched one relief inning for the U.S. Military All-Stars. The 2004 West Lincoln graduate was proud to be representing his new team in his hometown.

Other in-game highlights
When the clock struck 9:11 p.m., the game was halted to sing Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A. ... Between innings, the U.S. Army held an official swearing in of more than 40 local future soldiers who were promptly congratulated by the U.S. Military All-Stars.

The actual game
Derrick Phillips smashed a two-run homer to put Gastonia up 6-0 in the fifth but the All-Stars rallied to tie it at six in the seventh. Gastonia then scored one in the ninth to pull off the victory.
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