FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (June 2012) -- Thousands of Soldiers and Family members participated in America's pastime June 16 -- not as baseball players, but as guests of honor at the Springfield Cardinals' annual Fort Leonard Wood Military Appreciation Day game, in Springfield, Mo., sponsored by Mid-Missouri Credit Union.

Before the Springfield Cardinals took on the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, more than 100 Fort Leonard Wood Soldiers representing the Chemical, Military Police and Engineer Corps-- as well as military children in the youth sports baseball league, converged on Hammons Field for the opening ceremonies.

In addition, more than 2,100 Soldiers, retirees and family members received free tickets to the game from Mid-Missouri Credit Union and local and area businesses, according to Tracy McCord, the credit union's senior vice president of marketing.

In the past seven years of sponsoring the event, "this is probably the best crowd yet," she said. "It's pretty exciting."

During the pre-game ceremonies, Maj. Gen. Mark Yenter, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general; Sgt. 1st Class Devon Martellotti, Fort Leonard Wood Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeant of the year; and Sgt. 1st Class Adam McQuiston, Fort Leonard Wood drill sergeant of the year, threw the first pitches.

McQuiston said he was nervous about throwing a baseball in front of the crowd, but was happy for the chance to participate.

"It was nerve-wracking, but it was fun. I'm glad to experience it," he said.

Following the first pitches, 30 new recruits participated in a group enlistment ceremony, led by Yenter.

Yenter said having a military appreciation event at a baseball game like this was fitting in several ways.

"When you have a large country -- 300 million Americans -- and only one percent are wearing the uniform at any given time, there's always the danger that the American people and the United States Army become separated from each other," he said. "If there's any message today, the message is (that) the reason why the Army is so good at what it does is because it's made in America. It is made from Americans, it is made by Americans, and it really is America."

The Cardinals defeated the Naturals, 7-2. However, for Pfc. Ryan Blumhagen, a trainee assigned to Company B, 169th Engineer Battalion, the highlight of the game wasn't a specific play, but an article of clothing.

"I'm loving the camouflage jerseys," he said of the Cardinals' special military appreciation game uniform.

He was also grateful for the chance to be part of the event.

"It makes me feel like an American," he said.

Pvt. Lyndsay Turner, a trainee assigned to Company C, 58th Transportation Battalion, was among the Soldiers that walked onto the field during the opening ceremonies. She also enjoyed the chance to leave her training for a day and be part of the game.

"We haven't actually been off post (before today)," she said. "It's overwhelming but it's definitely exciting just because we're around civilians and we haven't been yet, so we're in a new environment."

She said seeing the public's response to the Soldiers in uniform gave her a strong sense of appreciation.

"I never knew how much I was worth until I actually got outside and actually got thanked," she said.

After the game, AM Pyrotechnics sponsored a special fireworks presentation.

The Springfield Cardinals are the Double-A, minor-league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Naturals are the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Both teams play in the Northern Division of the eight-team Texas League.