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Soldier, back from Afghanistan, surprises nephew at youth baseball game in Homewood

Updated: July 17, 2013 7:27AM

Gino Maldonado says he’s always had a special bond with his nephew Landen Sesol.

“Ever since he was a baby, I was one of the only people who could stop him from crying,” Maldonado said. “I called him my partner in crime.”

Serving overseas with the Army National Guard kept Maldonado apart from his 7-year-old partner. But the duo were reunited Saturday, when Staff Sgt. Maldonado, back from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan, made a surprise visit to Landen’s youth baseball game in Homewood.

Landen’s team, the Cardinals, was warming up before the game when the man he calls Uncle G, wearing his fatigues, sneaked up behind him and was greeted with a warm hug. Also getting a surprise visit was Landen’s 5-year-old brother, Logan.

Maldonado, who grew up in Midlothian, said the time away from the boys was tough and that he wasn’t able to talk by phone with them as much as he wanted.

“I wanted to be able to catch one of his games,” said Maldonado, 29. “I know the season is ending soon. I’m glad the timing worked out.”

It was his second deployment. He also served a 15-month tour in Iraq 10 years ago.

Lesley Sesol — Maldonado’s sister, who’s mom to Landen and Logan — said she relied on calls and Facebook to keep in touch with her brother during his latest deployment, and that Landen talked about his uncle “all the time.”

Lesley Sesol said she hadn’t seen her brother before Saturday’s surprise visit to the ballfields at Izaak Walton Park. Maldonado got back to the United States, in Mississippi, about a week ago, then flew to O’Hare Airport earlier Saturday.

Maldonado enlisted in the National Guard before graduating from Oak Forest High School, reporting for training after senior year. He turned 19 in March 2003 and was sent to Iraq the next month.

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