When 1st Lt. Jon Crucitti heard that Major League Baseball was bringing a regular-season game to the U.S. Army base in North Carolina that is home to his 82nd Airborne division and some 55,000 service members and their families, he was shaking his head with disbelief. How? Where? Can it be true?
A lifetime fan of baseball -- particularly the Braves -- who played at West Point, Crucitti knew it would be quite the endeavor, and a dream come true for someone who has devoted his young life to the country's military and America's pastime. So as the field began to take shape for the Fort Bragg Game between the Braves and Marlins on July 3 -- MLB's unprecedented Fourth of July Weekend tribute to the nation's armed forces -- the 24-year-old had the unique confluence of his two greatest passions in his sights.
"I couldn't find out enough about it fast enough," said Crucitti, a 2014 West Point graduate who played for the Black Knights on a special crossroads for baseball and the military, Doubleday Field.
There is enormous excitement brewing on the base and a through-the-roof ticket demand for the game, a little more than a month away. But on this day, Memorial Day, we can't lose sight of what Fort Bragg really is. It is the largest military base in the world, home to 10 percent of the Army's entire population. It is home to some 200,000 people, including approximately 55,000 service members, plus their families, retirees and civilians. It is known as being the home of Airborne and Special Operations. And special Memorial Day events and remembrances have taken place on the base all weekend, and will continue on Monday. And if that's doesn't hit home, know that Crucitti is about to deploy for a month to Europe as an infantry officer with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division -- part of the Global Response Force, tasked with being anywhere in the world in 18 hours if called upon. The timing of the deployment, however, has him back stateside in time for the game.
"I'm planning on hopping that first plane back," said Crucitti, who hails from Mooresville, north of Charlotte, and is proud to call Carolina part of Braves Country. "I'll be there with my Braves hat on, standing by."
Christina Douglas, a Fort Bragg spokesperson, said soldiers currently deployed overseas have even called to find out if they might possibly get a ticket, and so has a World War II veteran and longtime Braves fan. It will be up to the base's Directorate of Morale, Welfare and Recreation to decide who will get the limited number tickets to the game, a monumental task based on the demand for this unique event.
"I can't even describe the level of excitement from the service members and family members and civilians here at Bragg," said Douglas said. "It's incredible to see. Folks are calling in every day asking about how they can get tickets. They're very excited about the upcoming game, and we're incredibly honored and grateful for this opportunity."
Everyone is eagerly following the progress of the special field, one that will become part of Fort Bragg's community even after the game is played, anchoring a new complex for the installation's intramural sports programs.
"I'm constantly checking on it, whether it's the Fort Bragg social media or even just driving by there and seeing the green grass on the field," Crucitti said in a telephone interview last week. "It's really awesome to see this thing coming together, piece by piece, and the efforts that are going toward it."
The venue itself is very much on track. A ballpark with a seating capacity of 12,500 is on its way to being in place, the field up to Major League standards and ready for an ESPN audience to tune in. It promises to be a tribute to the nation's military never seen before in professional sports, and at a venue unlike any other in baseball's history.
No, it's not being built in a corn field in Iowa. It's being built on a former golf course in North Carolina. But it is a dream project for those working on it.
Call it the Field of Thanks.
MLB field consultant Murray Cook, who travels the world supervising upgrades to fields for Major League and World Baseball Classic competition, is among those proud to be putting his expertise toward the unique project.
"We've taken this patch of ground and done something very special with it for the people who live there," Cook said last week. "Anyone and everyone that I've talked to, they're just stoked to be a part of it and get excited just talking about it."
Working with experts in putting on such large-scale events, Cook and the rest of the MLB team involved in the project have taken what was part of the Willow Lakes Golf Course, which closed with the merging of Fort Bragg with adjacent Pope Air Base, and is turning it into a gem of a ballpark. They broke ground March 1, began to build the field in April and are close to completing the sod, which will give it plenty of time to be ready for the July 3 game.
"When it happens, I think it's going to be better than what we're even thinking now," Cook said. "It gives me goosebumps.
"It really is just an honor to be a part of it. The first thing I thought of was how cool that would be for the military that's stationed there. It's as simple as that and as cool as that."
The image of Crucitti donning his Braves cap as a proud member of the military is a poignant reminder of what this game and what this field is all about -- honoring those who serve. Crucitti has a family history of service. His late grandfather, Martin Crucitti, earned the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart in World War II and inspired Jon's entry into the military. After Army Ranger school and Airborne school following his West Point graduation, he is a platoon leader and on call at any moment to respond to a crisis.
He may be young, but Crucitti has been around long enough to know that this is indeed a special gesture MLB is making with the game, and the field that will remain for those who serve.
"The game will be a great thank-you, and the opportunities that will surround that weekend are going to be incredible," Crucitti said. "But for that ballpark to stay as a standing donation to the soldiers and paratroopers of Fort Bragg is just a phenomenal step by Major League Baseball to go beyond the thank-yous and the camo baseball hats and leave a lasting impact on the Fort Bragg community."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.