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Friday, Nov 17, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Smoltz lends hand to help real heroes

TAMPA - If you're through watching the British Open on Sunday, you might tune to NBC and the final round of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe. You'll see something that'll do your heart good. You might see John Smoltz, former big-league pitcher, future Hall of Famer turned golfer, atop the leaderboard, and even if he isn't, you'll still see his custom-made camouflage golf cap, a tip of the hat to charity and, more to the point, wounded American servicemen and servicewomen back in Tampa. "I think since 9/11 we've come to realize who the real heroes are," Smoltz said. Smoltz is teaming with friend and business partner Kevin Keever, a former South Florida basketball player, and Barnacles, the restaurant they own in Brandon, to raise funds for the Tampa chapter of Operation Helping Hand, a nonprofit that helps patients and families at Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital.
Smoltz and Keever packed a lot of hats like the one Smoltz will wear during the three-day celebrity-studded event. The idea is to gather a sports or entertainment figure's signature on each hat, then auction the hats on Barnacles' website, with proceeds going to Operation Helping Hand. They're hoping the auction will raise thousands of dollars. Among the celebrities who have signed hats in Tahoe: Skip and Lou Holtz, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Fred McGriff, Brett Hull, Greg Maddux, Carson Palmer, Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan, Steve Spurrier, Jerome Bettis, John Elway, Trent Dilfer and Tim Tebow. Barnacles will throw a bash this Sunday, proceeds also going to the veterans hospital. "It's a truly great cause," Keever said. Feel good yet? Some of you might not know the location of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. Some of you might drive by it every day. It's on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, between Fowler and Fletcher avenues — and it's about the busiest veterans hospital in the country, handling severe casualties, most of the incoming active-duty patients coming from Afghanistan. "These families need support," said Bob Silah, a retired Navy captain who in 2004 founded the Tampa chapter of Operation Helping Hand. "We reach out to them the best we can." The organization provides everything from donated food to rental cars to airline tickets, anything that's needed. "It's very gratifying, John and the people at Barnacles doing what they can," Silah said. "This could be a big one for us." Smoltz, 44, retired in 2009 as the only major-league pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves. He's now a broadcaster for TBS and MLB Network (He'll be here Thursday when the Rays play the Yankees). Smoltz does charity work anywhere he goes. During a visit to Fort Bragg in North Carolina after 9/11, he watched young men and women practicing for war. "They were so young, and they knew where they were headed," Smoltz said. He hopes people see his golf cap and go to the auction at www.mybarnacles.com or www.operationhelpinghandtampa.com to read, learn and help. By the way, there's a distinct possibility Smoltz could win the tournament. The guy is no slouch. He sports a 0.2 handicap. This is his only his third celebrity event at Lake Tahoe (baseball season always got in the way), but he finished second last year behind former football player Billy Joe Tolliver. "This is the granddaddy of (celebrity events)," Smoltz said. "I don't want to win it once. I'd like to win it multiple times." He'd love to start winning this Sunday, in a cap that honors a cause that just can't lose. "It's for heroes," Smoltz said.
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