FORT STEWART, Ga. - For any Soldier who is a baseball fan, the months of April to September mean their favorite team will play 162 regular season games. One professional team took a game out of their schedule and made it something special for servicemembers and their Families.

In honor of Memorial Day, the Atlanta Braves recognized current military members and veterans in a ceremony prior to their game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Turner Field in Atlanta, May 23.

Soldiers marched onto the field and stood along the first and third base lines, receiving loud cheers from the fans, some of whom were waving American flags to support the troops.

Nearly 1,000 military members and their Families attended the game free of charge courtesy of baseball players within the organization, including pitchers Mike Gonzales and Raphael Soriano, and catcher Brian McCann. The event also featured a flyover by the 94th Airlift Wing based out of Dobbins Air Force Base, Ga., and a parade of nine Soldiers who 'took the field' with the nine Braves starters while wearing their Army uniforms with Braves ballcaps instead of berets.

The 3rd Infantry Division Band entertained fans in "Fan Plaza" prior to the game.

One Fort Stewart servicemember enjoyed watching baseball during the holiday weekend and felt honored to be a part of the ceremony.
This is outstanding," said Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Ward, bandmaster for the 3rd ID band. "It's great they let the Soldiers come in here. Baseball is (what) Families do together. It's the last great American sport. Patriotism, baseball and America all go together."

Chief Warrant Officer Ward also loved conducting his band on such an important day to honor the veterans.

"We love playing for the public and the veterans," he said. "It's what we do."

The pre-game ceremony also honored four Purple Heart recipients, which included veterans from World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sergeant First Class Ricardo Lugo, plans non-commissioned officer in charge for 1st Army, Fort Gillem, Ga., was the OIF veteran honored; he received two of the decorations while deployed to OIF Three.

"It's a privilege for me to be here," he said. "I really appreciate the effort to recognize Soldiers past and present."

The fans cheered for Sgt. 1st Class Lugo and the other honored men who stood on the pitcher's mound as they were recognized by the crowd for their sacrifice and the service to their country.

Soldiers and fans watched the game, surviving the downpour of rain at the end to see the home team defeat the visitors, 4-3.

While the team got the win, one player spoke of his reason for suiting up and playing on Memorial Day.

"We appreciate what you do day in and day out," said Gonzalez, a pitcher for the Braves. "The least we can do is give you a good game today."

The Braves honor the military year-round. Every game at Turner Field, members of the military can receive a 2-for-1 ticket offer on Upper Box seats by showing their military ID at the Turner Field ticket windows.