By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff Writer May 10, 2013
WASHINGTON - United States Marines are accustomed to taking to water and invading beaches and enemy-controlled river banks.
May 8's mission was a bit more leisurely but still multi-purposed. The assignment was to converge on the northwestern bank of the Anacostia River in the name of goodwill and participate in pre-game ceremonies at Nationals Park on Marine Day as the Washington Nationals faced the reigning American League champion, the Detroit Tigers.
Following a 55-minute rain delay, an announced crowd of 34,893 met the Marine pre-game lineup, which included Marine Corps Staff Director Lt. Gen. Willie J. Williams, who threw out the first pitch, and Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps Henderson Hall Sgt. Major Craig D. Cressman, who delivered the game ball to Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman.
"Excited and humbled," were the words Cressman used an hour before walking to the field. "This is an honor. The best thing is I get to see Marines on the field; I'm really happy about that. They say it's raining, but Marines are amphibious by nature."
Before the 2013 season, the District of Columbia's major league baseball club held a joint military appreciation day, but home dates on the Nat's schedule this year will hold branch-specific military nights or days.
"We have these branch days, we have the Marines out today, and everyone is so appreciative," said Shawn Bertani, the team's community relations senior director. "We're offering an opportunity to thank [them]; we're offering an opportunity to showcase the Marines, and that hardly seems like enough compared to what they're doing for us. This is one small way to say thank you."
Even as Nationals players mentally prepared for the interleague contest against the Tigers, Bertani noted they were very aware and receptive of the evening's Marine tribute.
"By virtue of them playing in the nation's capital, they get that right away. They get that early on," she said of the player's appreciation of the service branches. "We believe in supporting the huge military community we have in D.C. We bring to them opportunities to have one-on-one interactions with various members of the military."
One once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the club provides for face-to-face interaction with fans is with the Starting Eight. The Starting Eight is the team's pre-game custom of allowing fans to meet and greet a Nationals player at their respective field position. On Marine Day, the Starting Eight consisted of a lineup complete with Devil Dogs.
Gunnery Sgt. David Charlton, H&S Bn. Henderson Hall Motor Transportation staff NCO, was a member of the evening's Starting Eight. He was paired with Nat catcher Kurt Suzuki near home plate and was greeted by the umpiring crew of Hunter Wendelstedt, Jerry Layne, Alan Porter and Greg Gibson.
"Hey, that was quite a surprise; the umpires turned around and said thank you for your sacrifice," said Charlton, who was a first-time visitor to Nationals Park. "It was an awesome experience and something I'll never forget. Meeting the catcher [Kurt Suzuki] and to see how appreciative and how sincere they were was awesome."
As he came to the mound, Williams was loudly applauded for his 40 years of service to the Corps. He then delivered his pitch to Nationals utility infielder Chad Tracy. The lieutenant general confessed that like any pitcher, he warmed up before his appearance.
"I have been practicing a little bit; I have to admit," he said. "I did throw a few back in the tunnel there. I had to at least make sure I could get it headed in the right direction."
The other military branch recognition dates courtesy of the Nationals include the Army (June 20); The U.S. Coast Guard (Aug. 5) and the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 19.