WHITING | For Joe Houlihan, patriotism runs in the family. The red, white and blue colors of the United States flag are always close to his heart.
The New Lenox native and Northwest Indiana Oilmen infielder has a 24-year-old brother, Mark, who has served for three years in the Air Force. Though Mark just got a job as a police officer in Joliet, he could be still called up for active duty.
Tonight's special exhibition game pitting the Oilmen against the U.S. Military All-Stars is extra special for Houlihan, as his brother will also be in attendance watching.
"Even if I didn't have a brother in the military, it would still be a really cool experience," Houlihan said. "It's an added bonus to know that all those fans are out there to support people who are in the military when my brother is in the military. It means a lot for my family."
The large crowd in attendance last summer was comprised of many current and former military members, and Oilmen general manager Jim Taipalus expects the same turnout again at 7:10 p.m. today.
Tickets can be purchased by veterans or active duty military members for $2. The exhibition game will raise awareness to the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to severely injured service members during the time between active duty and the transition to civilian life.
Prior to the game, a free baseball clinic for children aged 5 and older will be held by the U.S. Military All-Stars at Oil City Stadium. A fireworks display will also be put on after the game.
"Everyone responds really well to these type of events, especially anything that supports the military," Taipalus said. "We've marketed and promoted it fairly well, and we expect the same as last year."
The environment of last season's game was completely different from any other home game, according to Oilmen coach Justin Huisman.
"Everybody here loves the country, but it's just one of those moments where you feel so proud," he said. "The fans are electric for both teams. The honor and respect they give to the country and everything that they do kind of humbles us. The whole atmosphere is just awesome."
Lowell grad Craig Austgen started at third base in last season's game. He, too, was humbled by the events of the evening, but that doesn't mean Austgen doesn't want to avenge the 9-8 loss to the All-Stars.
"Once I saw them and they took the field, they're pretty sharp," Austgen said of the All-Stars talent level. "They're definitely there to win. I definitely want to come back and win. They had two home runs, and that's what really beat us."