By Brandon BieltzJune 20, 2013
With Baltimore Orioles' first baseman Chris Davis' rookie card stuffed in his pocket, Staff Sgt. Norman Portillo took to the field at Camden Yards on Friday night.
The Soldier from the NCO Academy found his place in front of second base, next to Davis. The Oriole signed his rookie card before the two men stood together for the National Anthem.
"It was like meeting a giant," Portillo said of the 6-foot-3 player. "It was kind of intimidating. ... He's a lot taller in person."
Portillo was among the group of Fort Meade Soldiers -- 10 active duty and three retired -- recognized during the Orioles game against the Boston Red Sox at Oriole Park. Soldiers participated in various Military Appreciation Day events, including throwing four first pitches, a swearing-in ceremony for recruits and leading the National Anthem.
"It was like a dream," Portillo said. "It's memorable to be a part of baseball. It's a dream."
Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein said Military Appreciation Day is an example of the installation's "special relationship" with the Orioles and Baltimore.
"The strength of Team Meade is the community, and what happened tonight with the Orioles exemplified that," he said. "It brought together our installation and the community as one. You can't get more special than that."
Pregame events began with the swearing-in of 30 young Army recruits from the Fort Meade-based Baltimore Recruiting Battalion.
Rothstein was then joined by three retired Soldiers at the pitcher's mound, where each threw out the first pitch. The group consisted of retired Col. Bert Rice, a veteran with 30 years of active-duty service and two tours in Vietnam; retired Col. Douglas Dillard, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam; and retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, also known as the "Old Soldier," who served in Korea and Vietnam.
The four vets threw their pitches simultaneously. Rice called the experience a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
"What an exciting time," he said. "I'll never forget this night."
Nine Soldiers from various Fort Meade units then joined the Orioles on the field for the National Anthem, which was performed by Staff Sgt. Randy Wight of the U.S. Army Field Band.
Portillo said he briefly talked with Davis out on the field.
"He was kind enough to thank me," he said. "He was very humble."
Orioles fans said they enjoyed seeing the military recognition events.
"It made me feel good that my hometown city goes out of the way to recognize those who serve," said Mike Urgo of Baltimore County. "I have many family and friends who served and never get the kind of recognition that they deserve. I think it was cool that the Orioles took the time to do that."