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11/10/10 4:29 PM EST

Navy ship tour fills Marlins with awe

MIAMI -- Serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, Cpl. Jason Dunham of the U.S. Marine Corps gave his life at age 22 to save the lives of his platoon.

By using his helmet and body to shield his fellow Marines from a grenade, Dunham made the ultimate sacrifice. He died a week after his heroic act.

A military ship has now been named in his honor. Currently, the USS Jason Dunham, a 510-foot-long missile destroyer, is stationed at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The warship will be commissioned into the U.S. Navy on Saturday.

In honor of Veterans Day, which is Thursday, members of the Florida Marlins were invited to tour the Navy destroyer on Tuesday.

"It was really awesome to walk through there," said Marlins rookie first baseman Gaby Sanchez, a Miami native. "It's a new ship. Some places in there had that new-car smell."

The Marlins have a long history of reaching out to the military. Prior to Spring Training this year, representatives from the organization traveled to Kuwait and Iraq to visit the troops.

The group that toured the USS Jason Dunham included team executives, Sanchez, several Marlins Mermaids and mascot Billy the Marlin.

"We talked to the sailors," Sanchez said. "They said, 'Thanks for coming.' I was like, 'No, thank you. You're the ones risking your lives so I can play sports.'"

What stood out on the ship was the pure firepower.

"All the weapons they had on the ship were incredible," Sanchez said. "What they can do on this ship, and the abilities they have with that ship -- it was amazing to see the firepower that it had."

A native New Yorker, Dunham was a baseball fan and he played ball in high school.

Hanging on the wall in the dining area is a display that includes Jason Dunham's baseball jersey, plus his bat and batting gloves. Also on the wall is an autographed jersey of Derek Jeter, Dunham's favorite player.

"Jason loved playing baseball," Sanchez said. "It was really nice how they had his jersey and batting gloves there. It was really a nice display."

Jason Dunham was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2006. He was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in the Iraq War.

"What happened with Jason Dunham is unbelievable. How many people would do that? To jump and risk their life to save their platoon," Sanchez said. "I know that his family has to be proud of him for doing that. It's incredible, and it's nice that they were able to name that ship after him."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.