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Coleman thanks MLB for recognizing vets

Coleman thanks MLB for recognizing vets

NEW YORK -- As the only Major Leaguer to see combat in two wars, former Yankees infielder and current Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman lost five critical years off his playing career and, despite putting together a fine resume decorated with four World Series championships, was never really allowed to reach his full potential.

But ask him whether he regrets taking part in World War II and the Korean War, rather than giving baseball his sole focus, and he'll give you an answer like this:

"Let me tell you something -- the two great things in my life are my mother and my time in the military," he said.

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"I regret not one bit of that time. I would've liked to have been a better player and have [my career continue steadily], but if I had a choice, I'd keep it the way it was."

Coleman's military ventures share a special place in his heart -- perhaps more so than anything he accomplished on the field or in the broadcast booth -- and on Wednesday, he wanted to thank Major League Baseball for sharing that same passion.

As a member of a non-profit, nationwide grassroots campaign called "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" which strives to honor the men and women of the WWII generation, Coleman wanted MLB to recognize Aug. 14, 2010 -- the 65th anniversary of WWII's conclusion.

To that end, Coleman sent out e-mails to the PR staffs of all 30 Major League clubs earlier in the summer. And all 30, with the approval of MLB, said yes.

So on the day before he served as a grand marshal for the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Thursday, Coleman stopped by MLB's headquarters to thank the league, presenting MLB vice president of community affairs Thomas Brasuell with a commemorative pin and patch of the "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" campaign.

"Having a Hall of Famer here," Brasuell said, "to recognize him and the support he gives this initiative, is huge to us."

About 4,500 professional ballplayers served in WWII, and roughly 500 of those were Major Leaguers, most famously Coleman and Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams (who was an instructor in WWII, then was in combat during the Korean War).

The "Keep the Spirit of '45 Alive!" campaign began about two years ago and pushed the envelope this year, eventually getting Congress to pass a resolution to make the second Sunday of August a day of national remembrance, calling it "National Spirit of '45 Day."

In honor of the 65th anniversary of the end of the war on Aug. 14, the campaign held numerous nationwide events, including an official kickoff ceremony in Times Square and -- thanks to Coleman's persistence and stature -- the commemoration of MLB, which is a founding partner for "Welcome Back Veterans."

Coleman, who has been the Padres' broadcaster for 38 years and won the Ford C. Frick Award in 2005, enlisted as a Marine Corps fighter pilot at age 18 in 1942, shortly after being signed by the Yankees out of high school.

The slick-fielding Coleman then returned to baseball in 1946, got the call to the big leagues in '49, and went on to hit .273 with an All-Star Game appearance and three World Series titles -- including World Series Most Valuable Player honors in 1950 -- his first three years in the Majors. Then, the Marines called again, this time for the Korean War, which limited him to just 19 games in 1952-53.

Coleman returned once again and wound up playing in the Majors until 1957, but he was never the same player after 120 combat missions.

There's a reason why his nickname is "The Colonel," though. Coleman, now 86, holds his time in the military with the greatest of pride.

"My five years in the Marine Corps really made me what I am," he said. "And to that, even with all the great victories with the Yankees and all the stories there -- which I love dearly -- the most important years of my life were my time with the service."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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