WASHINGTON -- Troy Yocum knew two years ago he would spend this Memorial Day at Nationals Park. He just did not realize how hot it would be.
But despite the heat and humidity the U.S. veteran said was absent when he served in Iraq, Yocum walked the bases Monday as part of "Run the Bases for Military Families" -- a welcomed break from his cross-country hike to raise money for military families.
"Today on Memorial Day -- a lot of people start thinking about our veterans," said Yocum, who is 14 months into hiking a 7,800-mile loop around the country. "What I want them to do is think about them all the time."
Yocum had an opportunity to raise that awareness as part of the Nationals' Memorial Day weekend festivities. The Nationals offered a special ticket plan, which included a seat, a $10 donation to Yocum's Hike for Heroes fund, and entry to run the bases after the game.
After Louisville Slugger sponsored the Louisville native's hike, Yocum drew his map to include stops at Cubs and White Sox games in Chicago, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, the College World Series and Minor League parks.
"Think about how many people in here have a clue about the suicide rate. Did you know that 18 veterans kill themselves a day in our nation?" Yocum asked. "Did you realize unemployment for veterans is 27 percent when unemployment for the rest of the nation is 25 percent? Did you know that one out of three homeless is a vet?"
Yocum wants to spread that awareness, but he also has targeted raising $5 million.
While Yocum served in Iraq, a friend emailed him, explaining he lost his job and now struggled to pay bills and support his family. First, Yocum brainstormed for a way to help his friend, but it grew into a 17-month hike, which began in Louisville, went north to Chicago, west to San Diego and east to New Orleans before he returned north to Washington D.C.
"The idea spawned from this day in Iraq when I kept saying to myself, 'How would I raise money across America? Town to town? City to city? I like to hike, so why not walk it?'" Yocum said.
Yocum departs from Washington to arrive at Modell's Sporting Goods in Times Square on June 15, when Modell's will launch a fundraising campaign for Hike for Heroes. The sporting goods store already donated $200,000 along with its partners -- doubling the amount Yocum raised through his first 14 months hiking.
Beginning June 15, a total of 1,500 retailers -- including Modell's -- will encourage shoppers to donate $1 after every purchase. Meanwhile, Yocum will hike another leg to Boston before returning to the Louisville Slugger Museum.
"I like to call Modell's the miracle I've been praying for this whole time," Yocum said. "We're crossing our fingers that, at the finish line, we might somehow reach our goal."
Originally plans called for a 16-month hike and Yocum's website (drumhike.com) -- where he accepts donations -- advertised "7,000 miles across America." But kidney stones in the Rockies, a foot infection in Texas and neck pains in North Carolina slowed Yocum's journey, which he makes with his wife, Mareike. The hike began with an RV following, but the engine caught fire on a 108-degree day in Kansas.
Yocum only carries a backpack with water now -- anything more slows his 20-mile-a-day rate -- while his wife follows in a support vehicle with more supplies.
Upon his return to Louisville, Yocum will set off yet again, this time distributing the funds he raised at Nationals Park and his other stops across the country.
"I get to go across America again -- this time in a car -- and donate and help families," Yocum said.
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.