Memorial Day stirs emotions across baseball
Major League clubs from coast to coast honor armed forces
On any given day in any ballpark, the national anthem and God Bless America can be heard.On Monday, they were felt. Some, like Kansas City manager Ned Yost, didn't need a special day to discover new meaning in the Star Spangled Banner. "I always try to make a point every time during the national anthem that I remember [the military], that I'm thankful for their service and what they provide for us," Yost said. "The ability for us to go about our life we have." Before the windups, the swings and the slides, Major League Baseball celebrated the dedication and memory of the armed forces, who through generations have protected the right for such activities to proceed in freedom. Memorial Day 2011 stirred emotions from coast to coast, as grandstands of fans bowed their heads in silent reflection and raised their voices in thunderous salute, hoping their message of gratitude reached the military personnel on the field and in the adjoining seats. And for some, it was not only moving, but deeply personal. "I'm very appreciative of it. They need to be recognized," said Arizona manager Kirk Gibson, whose father, Robert, was on the USS Missouri in September 1945, when the U.S. and Japan signed a peace treaty to officially end World War II. "I know I stand there for the anthem every day and look at the flag and support those people that risk their lives for us every day so we can do what we do. I'm humbled by the whole thing; they're very courageous people." Oakland pitcher Brad Ziegler, a student of war history and of his own family's military history, used the occasion to spread word on the foundation he started last year, Pastime for Patriots, which provides baseball tickets for families of troops. "This day means a lot," Ziegler said. "This is the day designed to really honor those who have died and served us. It's just something that I'm very passionate about. We can never thank enough those who have served and died in their service." In some ways, all the ballparks were linked by common threads: Players on all teams, for instance, wore Stars & Stripes caps, earmarked to be auctioned off as part of an MLB initiative in support of Welcome Back Veterans, an organization that offers post-traumatic stress disorder treatment for returning veterans.
In many other ways, each home club honored the military in its own unique fashion. In the nation's capital, Troy Yocum paused from hiking the nation to walk the bases at Nationals Park. Yocum is 14 months into his 7,800-mile hike to raise money for military families. The 360 feet around the bases enhanced the visibility of his project. First-pitch ceremonies accorded a deserved stage for: United States Marine Corps Major General Richard Mills in Citi Field ... Commander Michael Jacobs, a United States Navy Senior Medical Officer, in Safeco Field ... Korean War veteran Army Commander Edward Slater in Kauffman Stadium ... Army officer Steve Martin in Chase Field ... Major General Robert Brown, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, in Turner Field ...
Colonel Michael Thomas of the Michigan Air National Guard, former Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., president William Burnett and Disabled American Veterans senior vice commander Christopher Sardo, who shared the honor in Comerica Park ... And in Great American Ball Park, pitcher Paul Miller and catcher Chris Miller, a father and son with more than a half-century of combined Navy service, formed the first-pitch battery. Before the first official pitch, and after the top of the seventh's final pitch, those pulse-accelerating verses "Oh, say can you see ..." and "... to the oceans white with foam ..." were delivered by ... The USO Liberty Bells in Citi Field ... Musician 3rd Class Sarah Reasner of the U.S. Navy in Safeco Field ... Technical Sergeant James Donaldson in Comerica Park ... And Naval officer Ruben Minor in Great American Ball Park. Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander Major Michael Smith and former Air Force Staff Sergeant D'Anthony Forte in Tropicana Field ...
The commemorations began long before the ceremonial tosses and the anthem chords.In Oakland, the A's spent batting practice time socializing with wounded veterans. In Detroit, active members of the Armed Forces and veterans were invited down to the field for a pregame ceremony. Additionally, a group of veterans from the John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, who sustained injuries while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, watched the game from Justin Verlander's luxury suite as part of the pitcher's Victory for Veterans program. In Kansas City, Gonzaolo Reyes, Kent Schroeder, Joe Liles and Lou Kadera -- all veterans of foreign wars -- were honored, and a three-volley salute acknowledged military personnel from Kansas and Missouri who lost their lives in recent overseas operations. In Seattle, the colors were presented by the Todd Beamer High School AFJROTC in nearby Federal Way, Wash. In Atlanta, the Braves hosted 1,353 military personnel and their families at Turner Field throughout Memorial Day weekend. In Cincinnati, five members of the Cincinnati Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen were honored on the field during pregame ceremonies. Then, as in churches and in fields and on stages across the country, Great American Ball Park fell silent as part of the Memorial Day National Moment of Remembrance, to honor Americans who sacrificed their lives while serving the country. In Atlanta, a moment of silence was observed with members of the military wrapped around the four sides of the infield, standing shoulder to shoulder with Padres and Braves players. The silence was broken by a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps."
As ceremonies disbanded, players milled on diamonds with the honored military to exchange memorabilia, like in the Coliseum, where the A's swapped caps with their guests.That wasn't enough for Dallas Braden, who exchanged his full uniform with Specialist Mark Braden, no relation. The Oakland Braden then caught the ceremonial first pitch from U.S. Marine Sgt. Dayton McConnell. Then it was time to play, but on this day even the routine was treasured. "I've got a lot of pride in this country," said the Cardinals' Allen Craig. "It's definitely cool to be out there and play America's game."