FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- As Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox interacted with military personnel and family members at a Fort Bragg dining hall on Sunday afternoon, one of his favorite former players, Martin Prado, was among the Braves and Marlins gladly handling long lines of autograph seekers.
"Even though I'm not from here, I have so much respect for the military and everything that they do," said Prado, who hails from Venezuela. "Having lived here for almost 15 years, I know all the problems this country has had and how these people try to protect the country. If I can give back to the people who actually sacrifice themselves for us, it's just a little thing I can do."
During the hours leading up to the game between the Braves and Marlins at Fort Bragg, players from both teams participated in numerous activities that allowed them to interact with troops stationed at the base. Prado and his Marlins teammate Marcell Ozuna joined Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and other Braves who interacted and ate with troops at the dining hall.
"I have no doubt that this is the country that gave me an opportunity to succeed and to help my family," said Prado, who played in Atlanta from 2006 to 2012. "In life, my mom says, 'You always have to be grateful for people that help you to grow and help you be better.' This country has been doing that for me."
Nearly every Braves executive, coach and player attended the event at the dining hall, which became quite crowded as military members and their kids took advantage of the opportunity to interact with the Major Leaguers who had come to the place they call home.
"This is the first time I've never been even the least bit upset when somebody has asked me for an autograph or a picture while I've been eating," Braves bench coach Terry Pendleton said. "This is a great event. It's great to see all of these men and women who do so much for our country."
Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz enjoyed the opportunity to speak to some of these military members, who live a life he knew when he was a member of the U.S. Army. Schuerholz lost his military deferment when he quit his teaching job to join the Orioles' front office in 1966.
While attending Towson State, Schuerholz applied for officer's candidate school, but he was denied because he's been deaf in his right ear since he was 5 years old. So when he lost his deferment and received his draft notice for Vietnam, his disability led him to join the Army.
"[The recruiter] said, 'Pal, we don't care if you can hear out of one ear, see out of one eye and have just one arm. If you can hold a rifle and shoot the [darn] thing, we want you in the Army,'" Schuerholz said. "So I told the Orioles, and they said, 'We can't have that.' So they arranged for me to get in the Reserves."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.