'No man left behind' takes on new meaning in World Series

When Joey Bonish suffered a knee injury, underwent surgery and then moved out of the country, he was uncertain if he would ever play baseball with his teammates again.

But by following a rehabilitation plan set by his doctors, Bonish was able to rejoin his team in Taylor for the Junior League World Series.

Not only that, but he hit a home run to help his team win its first game of the international tournament.

Of course, Bonish’s team is not just any other team; it’s the team from the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Bonish, 14, is a baseball example of the military’s motto, “no man left behind,” according to team Manager Brent Belschner, who is a major in the Air Force.

Bonish was the starting shortstop for his regular-season Ramstein team when he belted what would have been a game-winning double during a Memorial Day tournament at the Kaiserslautern Military Community. During the swing, his foot “got stuck in the mud,” Bonish said. Half of his leg turned; the other half didn’t.

Doctors determined surgery was needed to repair his chipped kneecap. Surgery took place in mid-June and the initial prognosis was six to eight weeks of recovery time.

Bonish, sidelined on crutches, was determined to make a comeback.

“I worked hard,” he said. “I was doing all of the exercises at home.”

Belschner invited Bonish to be with the team July 10-19 in Kutno, Poland, for the tournament of the European, Middle East and Africa region.

“He rode the pine,” Belschner said. “He was classified as injured.”

The Ramstein all-stars won the regional tournament, which earned them a spot in the World Series for 13- and 14-year-olds in Taylor.

In the meantime, Bonish’s father, Army Sgt. Joseph Bonish III, was reassigned and the family moved to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia.

Bonish, who had been selected to the Ramstein all-stars two weeks before the injury, was still a member of the team.

“We left him on the roster the whole time,” Belschner said. “We were not really thinking he could come back and play. But he was part of the team, he made the team and we didn’t want to replace him on the roster. It’s a military thing: no man left behind.”

When the team and Bonish came face to face in Taylor, Belschner noticed that the teen-ager had limited mobility, but listed him as a healthy player, meaning he was scheduled to play every game.

“We had planned for Joey to come all along, but we didn’t know if he could play,” Belschner said. “He took batting practice in late July in Ramstein and he looked promising. He had a lot of pop.”

As a pinch-hitter against Indonesia, Bonish hit a hard shot to second base. In the field, the one-time starting shortstop became a reserve first baseman.

In his second at-bat of the game, Bonish showed he still had it: he stroked a solo home run over the fence at World Series Field in Heritage Park to give his team a 9-7 lead.

The rest of the week has been icing on the cake, although Germany dropped its next three games and finished 1-3 in the International Pool – out of the running for the championship.

Bonish said the World Series was something he didn’t want to miss.

“I thought it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “So many teams try out for it. It’s pretty amazing to get here.”

His manager obviously thinks highly of Bonish’s work ethic.

“It’s a Cinderella story,” Belschner said. “A guy comes back from an injury and goes yard. How can you beat that?”