Richard Justice

July 4th promises might: Banner day in MLB

July 4th promises might: Banner day in MLB

Three hours before first pitch of the Marlins' 5-2 win over the Braves, players and coaches from both teams were on the field at Fort Bragg taking photos, greeting soldiers, soaking in the atmosphere.

This was something new, something that both inspired and humbled. These teams got that part of it, and they did themselves and their sport proud. They understood it was about baseball and so much more.

Major League Baseball had one of its finer hours Sunday night in kicking off a two-day celebration of the Fourth of July with an idea that was smartly conceived and brilliantly executed.

That picturesque ballpark built for the occasion, those pregame ceremonies and the raucous crowd itself touched all the right buttons as baseball honored those who sacrifice for us and protect us.

"It's an opportunity to demonstrate that baseball can be about more than sports," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "It gives us an opportunity to say thank you to our service men and women and do it in a way no other sport can."

The game itself served as an appropriate lead-in to an Independence Day in which a full day of baseball will serve as a backdrop for a day of patriotism, fireworks, cookouts and all the rest.

Staff Sgt. Gregg performs anthem

Max Scherzer threw the first pitch of this Fourth of July a little after 11 a.m. ET on Monday in the Nation's Capital, as the Nationals and Brewers started the first of 15 games, the last finishing up some 15 hours or so later in Phoenix and San Diego.

This is a full schedule, not a showcase of one or two teams the way the NFL marks Thanksgiving and the NBA Christmas. That's not what this sport is about. We love it, in part, because its daily grind is part of its beauty.

Every player wears uniforms and hats designed for the Fourth of July -- though the Rangers got that tradition started a bit early with Stars and Stripes-themed suit for their trip to Boston for a showdown with the Red Sox. Additionally, every ballpark takes a moment to honor soldiers in an environment mindful of what the Fourth of July means, that is, the birth of this nation, this experiment in democracy President Ronald Reagan referred to as "a shining city on a hill."

It'll be about baseball, too. The Fourth of July has always been a day when we pay particular attention to the standings and when every team assesses its hits and misses as well a path forward.

Check it out.

This season has given us a smorgasbord of joys, from the Cubs roaring to the top of the National League Central right at the start and on a pace to win 102 games. They have a worldwide following, and their tremendous first half has made an entire sport better.

The Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants are like that, too. Both are in first place. So are the Texas Rangers, the team with the best record in the American League and seemingly headed for a fifth playoff appearance in seven years.

In all, six teams have solid division leads, but thanks to those four Wild Card Berths, at least 20 of 30 teams remain solidly in contention.

This first half has given us the Indians winning 14 in a row and Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting in 29 in a row. It was given us David Ortiz marking his 20th and final season still at the top of his game.

Ortiz's RBI double

And it has given us more youth: 21-year-old Nomar Mazara has gotten to the Major Leagues and performed better than the Rangers imagined.

Others -- 21-year-old Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and 22-year-old Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor -- carry themselves like seasoned pros in their second seasons.

And there's the continued greatness of Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson, of Jose Altuve and Jake Arrieta.

It's appropriate that baseball and the Fourth of July be intertwined with one another. In so many ways, that has always been the case.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter in which he urged Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis to keep the games going despite the war effort. He said baseball was so much a part of the fabric of America that it could provide an important diversion for workers at home and soldiers deployed around the world.

On this Fourth of July, on this baseball day, that remains true. Here's to remembering why we love this country, and along the way, being reminded why we love baseball.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.