‘I love this country’: Fireflies pitcher wears patriotism on his sleeve

Columbia Fireflies pitcher Bryce Hutchinson has very fond memories of Memorial Day growing up in Eastern Kentucky. He lived close to his grandparents — Roger Hutchinson Sr. and Bill McGuire — who each served in Vietnam.

While a lot of Americans today look at the military holiday in late May as an extended three-day weekend featuring fun on the water or family cookouts, it will always have special meaning to Hutchinson.

“Memorial Day is just one of those days where everyone in the nation needs to step back and look around and appreciate everything that’s been given to them,” the towering 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher said. “We wouldn’t have the opportunity we have, the freedom to choose what we want to do without the men and women that risked their lives every day for our freedom.”

Roger Hutchinson Sr. was a farmer who served in the Marine Corps. McGuire was a bus driver and an Air Force pilot. The stories they have told never get old.

Hutchinson fondly remembers one where Hutchinson Sr. was going on several days without food. He was walking along a dry, hot, deserted road when he came across a Snickers bar covered in ants. He wanted the small morsel of chocolate but also knew it could be a trap set by Vietnamese soldiers. He finally gave way to temptation, picked it up slowly, removed the ants, and ate it.

While Bryce Hutchinson hasn’t had to deal with anything like that in his lifetime, those type of stories are what inspired the tattoo on the upper part of his right arm.

“It shows an American flag ripped underneath my skin, symbolizing how much I love this country,” Hutchinson said. “If my skin were to peel away, I’m still an American and that’s something you can’t take away from me.”

Bryce Hutchinson’s American flag tattoo Chris Dearing Special to The State

Hutchinson’s father, Roger Hutchinson Jr., was in town this past week to watch his son pitch. He’s heard all the stories as well, both from his father and father-in-law. Hutchinson Jr. thought he would follow with a career in the military until he earned a baseball scholarship to Marshall.

Memorial Day was always something extra special in their family, he said.

“It means a lot obviously because of the brave men and women that fought for this country,” Hutchinson Jr. said. “It gives me an opportunity to thank my father for what he did when he was a young man. I was fortunate I didn’t have to serve, which I certainly would have. That was my other option if it weren’t for baseball.”

The military was an option for Bryce Hutchinson as well until he was drafted in the 12th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the New York Mets. He signed in late June of that year and is finally healthy this year after two injury-riddled seasons.

He only appeared on 14 games in the past two seasons due to injuries. Through Friday night’s home 6-2 home win over Greenville, Hutchinson has appeared in 14 games for the Fireflies with a 2-1 record, a save, and a 2.61 ERA.

Hutchinson hopes his baseball career continues as long as possible, but he has plans for once his playing days are over. Since his military opportunities seem to have passed, he wants to become a police officer. He currently wants to use his platform as a professional baseball player to tell everyone how special it is to be a citizen of the United States.

“It’s my job as a baseball player, with my outreach, to tell the story of the Marines and Army and all of the soldiers that don’t get enough appreciation in this country these days. I get to do what I do because of them. I feel like we lose that sometimes,” Hutchinson said.

“We are lucky that we can live here, where men and women bravely fight for our country and rights. All I can do is try to spread the appreciation for that service.”