05/28/12 12:00 AM ET
Memorial Day to be honored across MLB
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
In Minneapolis, vintage World War II aircraft including a P-51 Mustang and a P-38 Lightning will perform a pregame flyover. They are actual planes used in the filming of the soon-to-be-released movie "Memorial Day," and re-enactors wearing WWII period uniforms will greet fans at gates.
In Atlanta, the U.S. Army Silver Wings parachute team will present the game ball to retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army; F-16 jets from the 187th Fighter Wing/100th Fighter Squadron out of the Alabama Air National Guard will perform a flyover; Wounded Warrior Dan Berchinski will present the lineup card; and a giant U.S. flag with stars representing the five branches of military will be held by U.S. military.
And camo will be the fashion order of the day, worn by every player.
Major League Baseball celebrates Memorial Day on Monday with scenes like those at every home ballpark in a day-long salute to troops and with a National Moment of Remembrance to honor those who died fighting for freedoms enjoyed today.
"It is because of them that we are able to play this game and come to the ballpark," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, who will remember his brother, Army Sgt. James L. Washington, Sr., who was 24 when he was killed in combat in South Vietnam in 1969.
The day itself is a calendar marker that unofficially rings in summer vacation season, with grills ablaze and beaches and pools open all over, but as Army soldier and MLB.com user "musingmike" commented succinctly on Marty Noble's story about veterans and baseball, "It's not National BBQ Day. It's Memorial Day."
All clubs will wear the new 2012 Stars & Stripes caps on Monday and on Independence Day weekend as part of MLB's fifth consecutive year of national fundraising and awareness initiatives for Welcome Back Veterans, a program which addresses the needs of returning American Veterans and their families. With the support of MLB and its clubs, Welcome Back Veterans since 2008 has awarded more than $11 million in grants to more than 30 non-profit agencies across the country targeting veterans' greatest needs.
Instead of integrating the patriotic colors into logos, these MLB Authentic Collection caps from New Era for the first time will have a digital camouflage appliqué filling the logo on the front of the cap. They are available now at the MLB.com Shop, and MLB Properties and MLB.com each will donate all of their respective net proceeds received from the sale of the caps to Welcome Back Veterans.
Welcome Back Veterans is an MLB Charities initiative in partnership with the McCormick Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. The program is supported by MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network. It has led to unique approaches at the club level as well, and a great example of that will be on display at Turner Field, where the Braves and Emory University present the BraveHeart: Welcome Back Veterans Southeast Initiative. It is a celebration of one year for that initiative, which resulted from a $1 million grant from Welcome Back Veterans.
It is a screening, assessment and service program designed to provide veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan education about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and access to mental health and counseling services. BraveHeart representatives will be in Monument Grove distributing PTSD information and promotional items.
Monday calls for much heat, much on-field drama and much pageantry.
The team with the best record in baseball will host the Brewers at Dodger Stadium at 8:10 p.m. ET, and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch will be U.S. Marines Sgt. Michael Mejia. A Marine since 2003, he served two deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Making a full recovery after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) in combat operations, Mejia spent seven months in the hospital in recovery and is now back on full duty as platoon sergeant.
It is a sign of the times in baseball that military recognitions happen all the time, and not just on Memorial Day or other observed federal holidays. The Dodgers recognize a Veteran of the Game at every game, and the one they are honoring on Monday is Army Sgt. Luis Garcia of Orange, Calif. He enlisted in 2005, served two tours in Iraq and earned the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Overseas Service Ribbon, among other accolades.
Up the coast, Zito's Strikeout for Troops and the Giants will work in partnership with Operation: Care and Comfort; NCIRE (the Veterans Health Research Institute); and Bank of America to recognize retired and active duty service men and women from all military branches. At the gates and throughout the park, Operation: Care and Comfort, along with volunteer employees from Bank of America, will be collecting cash donations or small items, such as travel sized toiletries, hand sanitizer, DVDs, pens, pencils, band aids, AT&T phone cards and hard candy to assemble care packages for troops.
In Texas, where Matt Harrison tries to improve to 8-1 lifetime against the Mariners, the National Anthem will be performed by 531st Air Force Band Brass Quintet. The U.S. Marines Honor Guard will present the colors, and the game ball will be delivered by former Rangers right-hander Tim Crabtree, who went on to become a police officer at D/FW Airport.
During that game's moment of silence, the Rangers' manager will have someone special in his thoughts, as he always does. Washington said he still recalls the painful memory of May 1969, when he learned that his brother was killed in Vietnam. Ron Washington was a star athlete at New Orleans' John McDonogh High School at the time, a junior who had just turned 17. Sgt. Washington had been killed by hostile fire in the Dinh Tuong Province in South Vietnam.
"It just ripped my heart," Washington said. "I was devastated.
"He meant everything to me. I miss my brother. He really cared about us."
Sgt. Washington was buried with military honors and awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. Ozzie Garza contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.