The Cubs pitcher will trade in his cleats for combat boots this week as part of the Boot Campaign, an initiative aimed at showing appreciation of the active military and raising awareness of the needs of miliary personnel.
"This one hits home," Wells said. "You think of what we get to do for a living, and that's not possible without the sacrifice of so many people. We acknowledge service members and veterans here at the games, but you forget about the stuff they have to go through when they return home. It definitely changes their life."
When Wells eventually retires from baseball, he'll most likely be able to relax, play his guitar and live a comfortable life. He said that's not the case for soldiers who've been in combat.
"It's different for someone who has been in heavy fire or combat or who's been in the mountains of Afghanistan and had to fight for our country and then try to live a normal, peaceful life," he said. "Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious thing."
Wells and Cubs pitchers Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner, infielder Jeff Baker and manager Mike Quade all wore the boots in Spring Training in Mesa, Ariz. This week, those boots will be available for sale online, with proceeds going to the Boot Campaign, which has the motto "When They Come Back, We Give Back."
Wells, 28, became involved because of his musician friend Stoney LaRue, who served in the military. At a fundraiser event this offseason in Texas, LaRue introduced Wells to Marcus Luttrell, author of "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10." A Navy SEAL, Luttrell was the only survivor of the operation, staged in northern Afghanistan in June 2005.
"When I went down to the charity event and saw how much this book touched so many people, I got it and read it," said Wells, who has a cousin enrolled in the service, but who has yet to be assigned overseas.
"It's unbelievable the stuff these guys go through," Wells said. "You think about the other side, and how their families are sitting at home while their dads or brothers or husbands are out protecting this country, and all the cool things we get to do and take for granted. It hits your heart and you want to be part of and do what you can."
The Cubs are the latest in a long lineup of athletes, entertainers and musicians who have joined the Boot Campaign. The Florida Marlins, Astros outfielders Michael Bourn and Carlos Lee, and former Houston players Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell have all been involved in the project, as well as Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Detroit Red Wings and driver Kasey Kahne. Proceeds from every pair of boots sold go to charities that assist military members and their families coping with physical injuries and emotional hardships.
"Cubs fans are known for their unwavering support of their home team," said Sherri Reuland, executive director of the Boot Campaign. "The purpose of the Boot Campaign, and this partnership with the Cubs, is to offer these fans a tangible way to show this same unconditional appreciation for our troops, both while they're actively serving abroad and when they come back."
Cubs fans will be able to see photos of the players in their boots at BootCampaign.com and purchase the "Give Back" combat boots.
"I stress out about having to go out and pitch in the Major Leagues," Wells said, "and these people have to go to Afghanistan at the drop of a hat. This is very important to me. It's friends helping friends, and that's what I'm all about. And on top of it, it's something I believe in."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less