Turner Field already felt emotionally charged and patriotic for Memorial Day, but Master Sgt. David Sims managed to make some 42,000 people audibly gasp with a collective “ohhhh.”
He and the Braves surprised his wife and four children with an on-field reunion during the Braves-Cardinals game, coming home a week early from his six-month deployment with the Air Force in Afghanistan.
Sims’s 24-hour journey from Kabul through Kurdistan, Germany, Ireland, and Baltimore ended along the first base line at Turner Field, shortly after he first spoke to his family in a video message taped from Afghanistan and broadcast from the Turner Field jumbotron.
“I love you so much, I miss you, I hope you’re having fun watching the Atlanta Braves,” Sims said in the video. “I can’t wait to be with you again. In fact, wait one minute.”
Then he popped out from the far end of the Braves dugout onto the field, where his children ages 10-13, turned, looked, pointed and then sprinted to him, with his wife Robin trailing in flip-flops. They mobbed him with a group hug.
Sims exchanged smiles, tears, “I love you’s” and an extended, emotional bear hug with his wife, after she first gave him a playful punch in the chest.
“I had a suspicion, but he still surprised me in the end,” Robin Sims said afterward. “I thought he would be here. I watch one too many television shows and one of my favorite ones is ‘Coming Home.’ And last time he deployed he came home in a Christmas box, so it’s not past him to surprise me.”
When Sims came home from a 2009 deployment in Southeast Asia, he had friends pick him up at the airport and deliver him home in a giant box in the back of a pickup truck. This time the Braves set up the surprise as a part of their weekly “hometown heros” celebration.
The Sims family watched the rest of the game from the owner’s box beside the Braves dugout. Afterward, on their way home to Centerville, where Sims is stationed at nearby Robins Air force base, they planned to stop for a bite.
“I’ve got to stop and get some American food,” Sims said. “A greasy burger would be good.”