Happy Fourth of July.
Scenes like those will play out all over Major League Baseball on Monday, as the United States of America celebrates its 235th birthday. Fireworks spectaculars will light up the evening skies. Fans will pack ballparks in a traditional display of a perfect way to spend this holiday. This is about pool parties, vacation sun-worshiping, picnics, bottle rockets and baseball. This is about freedom and tributes to military who preserve that way of life.
As with Memorial Day, the uniformed personnel of 30 clubs on this day will share the stage with the uniformed personnel of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Clubs will wear Stars & Stripes caps as part of the overall initiative to raise funds and awareness for Welcome Back Veterans, to help returning troops and their families.
Welcome Back Veterans is an MLB Charities initiative in partnership with the McCormick Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, supported by MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network. With the backing of MLB and clubs, Welcome Back Veterans since 2008 has awarded about $11 million in grants to 30 non-profit agencies across the country targeting veterans' greatest needs, including mental health and job training/placement.
To fully appreciate this day around the National Pastime, just take a look at the Phillies-Marlins series opener at Sun Life Stadium in Florida, where Brian Sellers and Char Westfall are throwing out the ceremonial first pitches.
Sellers, from the Wounded Warriors program, served in the 1st Battalion 3rd Marines, and 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. While deployed to Iraq in 2004, he was injured during a mortar attack where he took shrapnel to the neck and the left side of his body, leaving him in a coma for six days. Westfall is the widow of Navy S.E.A.L. Jacque Fontan, who was killed in action in Afghanistan during a rescue attempt of Operation Redwing.
The Giants will pay tribute to the military during their home game against the Padres. U.S. military service members will be collecting "care package" items at the gates to ship to the troops. Fans are asked to bring sunscreen, DVDs, CDs, beef jerky, granola, toothbrushes and other small items to create these packages. Cash donations will also be accepted and donors will receive a mini U.S. Flag for their contributions. There will also be a flyover before the game from VFA-25 from Lemoore.
In Los Angeles, both the Angels and Dodgers will be honoring the 100th birthday this year of former president Ronald Reagan, with special ceremonies during their night games against the Tigers and Mets, respectively.
In the nation's capital, the Nationals are offering special ticket discounts to encourage fans to celebrate the American spirit at their ballpark for the 1:05 ET game against the Cubs. As part of the 2011 "Patriotic Series", the Nationals will incorporate a variety of creative gameday elements to pay tribute to those who risk their lives to protect the country.
New Era sponsors the Stars & Stripes program, and new for this year is the presence of a one-of-a-kind Bourget Python motorcycle dubbed the "MLB Stars & Stripes." The baseball-themed bike is on tour and visits cities including Atlanta, New York, Boston, Cincinnati, Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles as well as in Phoenix for events surrounding the 82nd All-Star Game on July 12. At each stop, fans will have an opportunity to take photos with the bike.
On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, the grand finale of the campaign concludes with a live telethon where the bike will be auctioned off with all proceeds going to Welcome Back Veterans.
"We feel so lucky to play a sport, and most of us make a great living compared to the average American," said five-time All-Star pitcher David Cone, New Era's spokesperson for the Stars & Stripes program. "These guys are over there sacrificing their lives and allowing us to be over here and be free and play baseball for a living and try to entertain a lot of people and a lot of Americans. No matter what we do, no matter how many charities we support, it will never be enough to repay these guys and these women for what they've done."