War veterans build friendships on Yountville baseball diamond

Many served in the Vietnam War, which ended 40 years ago this month.

In Yountville, veterans ages 60 on up tell KTVU baseball is changing their lives.

Mondays mean baseball practice on the grounds of the Veterans Home in Yountville.

Veterans there have formed a team they named "Mixed Nuts."

The youngest is 60-years-old. Some served in World War II, while many others in Vietnam.

"I was only 17. Most of us were just children," said 68-year-old Tom Parkinson, a Vietnam vet who served as a U.S. Army combat medic.

He's the team's coach.

Now decades later, he and others have a chance to play ball and recapture their youth.

91-year-old Andy Kapjian -- who served in World War II -- is the oldest member of the team. He plays shortstop and second base.

"I like the comradeship of ballplayers when they play on a team. They become like brothers," said Kapjian.

For the vets, this is only the second year they've played baseball together. But they say the friendships they've made transcend time.

They tell KTVU new friendships help heal the loss of comrades who never made it home from the battlefield.

"I still break up when I think about them. They're my brothers. I'll take that to the grave," said 71-year-old Merle Knight, who also served in Vietnam. "But playing this game here, it's a little bit of life again. It restores your soul."

There is no fear of a strikeout. They play for the love of game.

Some have overcome obstacles or been homeless. And war injuries don't stop anyone from stepping up to the plate.

"It puts a smile on your face...more often than it ever was before," said 67-year-old Steve Miller, a Vietnam Vet who plays the game in his wheelchair.

These vets say baseball imitates life.

"When you coach a team where the average age is 72, you realize how the world really does come around," said Parkinson.

With opening day just one week from Monday, vets say there's no better feeling than being on a team they helped build.

"It's a big family. You get that sense of family being here." said Knight.

They say there's no place like being on a baseball field that is part of their home in Yountville.