Baseball on Fourth of July offers plenty of patriotism
Basketball was born in this country during the latter 19th century, and it continues to thrive. Plus, from the mountains, to the prairies and to the oceans white with foam, a slew of folks are hugging other sports ranging from soccer to mixed martial arts. Not only that, football is our national obsession, especially the NFL.
Baseball remains our national pastime.
That is huge, and it will never change, because no sport is more linked to the psyche of the United States than this one, which has been around on a professional level since the end of the Civil War.
For verification, just think about Independence Day and then acknowledge the truth: Nothing is more red, white and blue than the combination of the Fourth of July and baseball.
As always is the case when this holiday produces joy and barbecue in the middle of summer, every team in the Major Leagues will play -- courtesy of seven games in the American League and eight in the National League -- and the crowds will be huge and electric.
Suddenly, I'm hearing that Frank Sinatra song in my head called "There used to be a ballpark."
Among the lyrics ...
"And there used to be rock candy and a great big Fourth of July
With the fireworks exploding all across the summer sky
And the people watched in wonder, how they'd laugh and how they'd cheer
And there used to be a ballpark right here."
There are new ballparks to replace those old ones, but they still feature the purely American things of Sinatra's song -- along with other things, such as the singing of "God Bless America" on many occasions.
The biggest occasion was after Sept. 11, 2001, when the nation began its collective healing -- all together now -- at "Yankee" Stadium, where President George W. Bush took the mound to deliver a perfect strike to home plate as the ceremonial first pitch.
Presidents have delivered ceremonial first pitches at baseball games since William Howard Taft did so in 1910. In contrast, presidents never have been involved with, say, ceremonial opening kickoffs in football or ceremonial opening tip-offs in basketball.
Consider, too, that the Dallas Cowboys invented the term "America's Team," but the Atlanta Braves perfected it.
Ted Turner began using "America's Team" during the 1970s to promote his Braves to a national audience on his new Superstation, and it worked. Big time. Even though the Braves kept spending most seasons looking as raggedy as the Cowboys were regal, the Braves kept growing in popularity across the country faster than the Cowboys.
It was the result of Turner helping the nation watch a team involved with the national pastime on a regular basis. It was more the national pastime than the Braves.
Then there are the multiple baseball heroes who sacrificed parts of their careers for country.
Grover Alexander had his career interrupted by World War I. While serving as a sergeant in France, he had a shell explode near him, and he spent the rest of his life suffering from epileptic seizures. Even so, he pitched well enough upon his return to the Major Leagues to reach the Hall of Fame.
Christy Mathewson. Ty Cobb. Joe DiMaggio.
There also was Ted Williams losing a bunch of career hits during his three years in the Marines during World War II. Ernie Banks. Yogi Berra. And, like Williams, you have to wonder how ridiculous the career numbers would be for Willie Mays, if not for the two years he spent in the Army during the Korean War.
Which brings us to the late Bob Feller. Nobody surpassed this flame-thrower for the Cleveland Indians as a physical reminder that no sport triggers more feelings of patriotism than baseball. In addition to Feller producing three no-hitters and an easy trip to Cooperstown, he was a war hero. He was a gun captain on a World War II battleship, and among other honors, he collected eight battle stars. Even into his early 90s, he spent most of his Memorial Day weekends joining others in a parade in Washington D.C.
I occasionally called Feller at his northern Ohio farm around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July for his thoughts at that moment on the world in general and on baseball in particular.
He never disappointed.
Our last conversation was in late May 2010, which was six months before he died at 92, and during that conversation, he was -- well, Bob Feller, the master of the blunt tongue. After I asked Feller if he thought sports overall was doing an adequate job of honoring veterans, he replied swiftly and loudly, "I'm not going to get involved with that controversy. If you want to start a controversy with that, you go right ahead."
Just as I prepared to tell Feller to "Have a nice Memorial Day" before hanging up, he continued. In fact, he was just warming up.
"I think most of the sports do a halfway decent job when it comes to dealing with and honoring the military," Feller said. "Even though they do pretty good, they could do better. Everybody could do better."
As for baseball's handling of all things patriotic, Feller said back then, "I'm not unhappy with it."
For good reason.
Take the Braves, for instance. They had a moving tribute for American troops on Sunday at Turner Field before their game against -- who else? -- the Washington Nationals. With hundreds of fans lined up, a red carpet that led from a major street near the ballpark to its main gates, approximately 150 military members were cheered along the way. The troops also were honored inside the ballpark.
That said, nobody surpasses the San Diego Padres along these lines. Not in baseball, not in sports.
Given the overwhelming number of active and retired military personnel in the San Diego area, the Padres have an alternate uniform that features digital camouflage jerseys. They also have special days for Marine recruits, and every Sunday, all uniformed military personnel get 50 percent off tickets. Then there are the many times that Padres players provide good cheer to troops at various military functions.
Such public and private patriots, these Padres, along with others throughout the Major Leagues.
Baseball is America.
America is baseball.
So enjoy the fireworks, and celebrate both of them.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.