By Matt DeckerMay 22, 2008
Military honored at Hammons Field as Springfield Cardinals host Fort Leonard Wood Appreciation Night
By Matt Decker
SPRINGFIELD, Mo., - Thousands of fans cheered hundreds of servicemembers as they paraded onto Hammons Field, May 17, during the Springfield Cardinals' third annual Fort Leonard Wood Appreciation Night.
More than 400 personnel from Fort Leonard Wood took part in the opening ceremonies, with Soldiers lining the outfield from baseline to baseline.
"It's an honor - definitely," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Endres, Maneuver Support Center Noncommissioned Officer Academy senior small group leader, and the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the parade.
Several Fort Leonard Wood personnel from the Warrior Transition Unit were also honored. Spc. Mary Bell and Spc. Steven Hirstein escorted Brig. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, United States Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear School commandant, and Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Alston, USACBRNS command sergeant major, to the mound as they threw ceremonial first pitches across the plate. Pvt. Derek Cannon also threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
"I think it's really powerful," Spoehr said when asked how it felt to have Bell escort him to the mound. "It's all well and good to be a general, but when you combine that with a great Soldier that's serving our Army, I think it becomes even more powerful."
Bell, who was injured in Iraq, said she was excited to be a part of the opening
"I've never been on a baseball field before," she said.
Earlier in the ceremony, the sacrifice of military families in the Global War on Terror was recognized, when the sons of the late Staff Sgt. Mark Anthony Evans-Lawton, who was killed in Iraq in 2003, took the mound. Dustin, 8, and his brother, Tanner, 5, took turns hurling pitches across the plate.
Later, Soldiers saluted in unison as the Joint Services Color Guard took the field and the 399th Army Band performed the national anthem near home plate. Afterwards, fans were treated to a flyover by a Black Hawk helicopter.
Kirk Elmquist, the Cardinals' vice president of sales and marketing, said the flyover was a special treat for fans, players and the team's staff alike.
"We're very fortunate, and give all the credit to the Missouri National Guard and (Appreciation Night sponsor) Mid-Missouri Credit Union for making that happen," Elmquist said. "... To have all 400 from the Fort Leonard Wood area representing all four branches, the band, the color guard, certainly having (a general) here to throw out a first pitch - and to have the wounded who have just come back from Iraq - it's certainly very exciting for us."
Another major sponsor of the event, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, showed their support by presenting $15,000 to the Fort Leonard Wood Army Relief Fund.
"We can't find enough opportunities of this sport to express how much ... as Americans, we appreciate these servicemembers and especially their families," said Scott Celley, TriWest vice president of external affairs. "They're doing more than we can ever thank them."
For most Soldiers, Appreciation Night was also a chance to get away and enjoy some baseball.
"We're all looking forward to it," said Staff Sgt. William Ash as he escorted about 80 privates from Company B, 577th Engineer Battalion. Ash was assisted by his son, Joshua, 6, who said he was looking forward to seeing the action at Hammons Field.
"I like to watch baseball," Joshua Ash said, adding that it is his favorite sport.
Endres felt opening ceremonies not only were a chance for servicemembers to be recognized, but to show their appreciation for the public's support.
"One of my biggest motivating factors is that everybody gives tributes to the Soldiers; this is the perfect opportunity for us, the Soldiers, to give back to the community," Endres said. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to do our jobs. Their support is immaculate when it comes to the morale of the troops. Today, both communities - the military and the Springfield area are basically supporting each other."
Although the Cardinals fell to the Tulsa Drillers 12-8, fans got to see plenty of home runs, including a two-run shot by Allen Craig that gave the Redbirds an early lead in the first inning.
Cardinals pitcher Adam Daniels gave up a run in the third, but Springfield extended its lead with a rally in the bottom of the frame, including an RBI single by Steven Hill that made the score 4-1.
After giving up two runs in the fourth, Jose Martinez hit a solo home run for the Cardinals in the bottom of the sixth, giving Springfield a 5-3 lead.
The Cardinals continued to lead until a disastrous eighth inning, when the Redbirds gave up seven runs, including a grand-slam homer by Tulsa's Daniel Carte.
Despite the loss, several Soldiers said they had fun at the ballpark.
"The game was good; it would've been better if we would've won, but it was nice to come to the game and be a part of a sporting event during the pre-game," said Pvt. Matt Petrone, Company F, 795th Military Police Battalion.
Petrone's battle buddy, Pvt. Andrew Pisarchiack, said he "had a ball."
"I wish everyone else from our company could have been out here with us. We all enjoyed it," he said.
(Editor's note: Decker is the Leisure/Sport editor of the GUIDON. Springfield News-Leader reporter Kathleen O'Dell and the Springfield Cardinals contributed to this story.)