By Mr. Matt Decker (Leonard Wood)June 29, 2017
More than 6,600 fans turned out to cheer on the Springfield Cardinals -- and Fort Leonard Wood service members -- during Saturday's Military Appreciation Day game at Hammons Field in Springfield, Missouri.
"It's an honor to be able to come out here, especially in a smaller community that really appreciates the military, and to be able to represent our Soldiers and Fort Leonard Wood," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Stanley, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood command sergeant major.
Stanley, along with Fort Leonard Wood's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Staff Sgt. Ryan McCarthy, and Maj. Gen. Kent Savre, MSCoE and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, threw out ceremonial pitches before the game.
"It's really an honor to bring my Family out here," said McCarthy, who was accompanied by his wife, Emily, and their 1-year-old son, Lincoln.
"He's been crawling around out in the outfield and throwing the ball," McCarthy said of Lincoln, adding, "He's having a great time."
Also having a good time were the Cardinals -- the Double-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals -- who went extra innings to earn a 4-3 victory over the visiting Arkansas Travelers, the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The result was predicted by Savre, whose pre-game pep talk proved to be a good luck charm for the Cardinals for the third consecutive year.
"The first thing I told them was that they're going to win tonight. They've never lost when I give them a pep talk," Savre said.
"I told them the same thing I always do. We serve in the military to support the American dream and to defend the Constitution of the United States. So, for us to come out here to Springfield and see a bunch of ballplayers trying to make it -- trying to chase that American dream -- it's really an honor for us," Savre said.
Fort Leonard Wood was featured almost exclusively during pre-game activities, which began with an Oath of Enlistment ceremony led by Savre, who inducted about 20 Springfield-area recruits into the U.S. Army. Savre congratulated each recruit and spoke about the importance of being a part of the Army team.
"As a general officer, it's a responsibility of mine to be a spokesperson for the military and for our Army," Savre said shortly before the ceremony. "It's very humbling; it's an honor, and I couldn't be prouder to represent the men and women who serve in our military."
As both the Springfield and Arkansas teams prepared to take their positions, service members marched onto the field, and, as thousands of fans stood, clapped and cheered, lined the baselines next to the dugouts.
"We have 144 service members from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force marching out and presenting honors to the flag," said Staff Sgt. Chad Hickey, Fort Leonard Wood's Drill Sergeant of the Year, who led the procession.
A baseball fan since his childhood growing up in Indiana, Hickey said that getting to be a part of a professional baseball game was "more than expected" when he competed to become the post's DSOY in May.
"During the competition, I was just trying to see how well I could do. Now that I have the recognition, it surprises me every day how much of an honor it is to represent (the post)," he said.
Along with its service members, Fort Leonard Wood was represented by two teams from its Youth Sports program.
The Braves T-ball team was the post's MVP team, and players had the opportunity to tour Hammons Field and play a game of catch in the outfield before the game. The Orioles coach-pitch team was this year's official Dream Team, and took their positions on the field along with Cardinals players.
Jamal Verdell, Youth Sports and Fitness director, said the appearances were made possible by Infuze Credit Union, which annually sponsors Military Appreciation Day activities at the ballpark.
"These are athletes from the ages of 5 to 8. This is a unique experience for them," Verdell said. "With our program focusing on honor, respect and leadership, they'll certainly be able to experience that on the field today."
With service members standing at attention, the Joint Services Color Guard presented the colors, and the 399th Army Band played the national anthem to conclude the day's pre-game events.
Between innings, service members took part in a number of games and contests, and the 399th Army Band's vocalist, Spc. Lance Boston, performed "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
After the game concluded, fans were treated to a fireworks display.