Any discussion of the weekend ahead probably should start there, with the beginning of the document that makes it worth celebrating.
How will you spend your Fourth of July holiday weekend?
Read the Declaration of Independence for the first time or all over again. Watch Roy Halladay go for his 11th win; watch rookie Tommy Hanson try to stay unbeaten; watch the Mets and Phillies go at it again. Watch the naming of the All-Star rosters Sunday afternoon. Watch fireworks shows, send up some bottle rockets and bang some firecrackers, swim and grill some juicy burgers.
Help make the world a better place. Yes, you can do that this weekend as well, because that is a big part of the celebration scene you are about to witness around Major League Baseball. This year, the Fourth of July is being celebrated at home ballparks in two ways that each empower and enable fans to help an important cause. Today, every home team will conduct a special on-field ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's farewell speech -- in an effort to raise awareness through and financial support for organizations leading the fight against ALS, the disease that claimed his life and bears his name. And all weekend long, players again will wear those red Stars & Stripes caps as part of national fundraising and awareness initiatives for Welcome Back Veterans, a program that addresses the mental health and job needs of returning military veterans.
"Seventy years ago, Lou Gehrig delivered an impassioned speech that has become part of American history," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Major League Baseball is proud to devote the Fourth of July to Lou Gehrig and the disease that bears his name. We are pleased to have this opportunity to help find a cure for ALS and help those who are suffering from the disease."
Selig also said "Major League Baseball considers it a privilege to assist our troops in any way we can. We are proud to support these efforts in every way possible, and we ask our fans to join us this Fourth of July weekend and beyond in this effort to raise awareness and funds for this important cause."
The scene in every home park will be dramatic when those clubs each have someone read Gehrig's famous "Luckiest Man" speech. July 4, 1939, was proclaimed "Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day" at old Yankee Stadium. Between games of that Independence Day doubleheader against the Washington Senators, the memorable ceremonies were held on the field. The New York Times would report a day later that it was "Perhaps as colorful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field (as) 61,808 fans thundered a hail and farewell."
The Yankees will host a special "4♦ALS Awareness" ceremony at new Yankee Stadium prior to their 1 p.m. ET game today against the Blue Jays. During the pregame ceremony, the Yankees will recognize Michael Goldsmith, a lifelong baseball fan who contributed to the development of the "4♦ALS" initiative.
"Seventy years after Lou Gehrig's farewell speech, no cure exists for ALS," Goldsmith said. "Doctors have no real way even to slow its devastating progression. Because research for a cure is still in its infancy, defeating ALS will require the same determination that Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr. demonstrated in setting records for consecutive games played. I live for the day when all ALS patients can give you a standing ovation for fighting this fight with us."
Today, all on-field personnel, including players, coaches, umpires and groundskeepers, will wear a "4♦ALS" patch. In addition, a special "4♦ALS" logo will appear on top of first base in each ballpark, to honor Gehrig, who played first base with the Yankees for 17 years.
Authenticated first bases from the July 4 games will be auctioned off at a later date on MLB.com to raise additional funds for ALS. A special "4♦ALS" video was created for clubs playing at home on July 4. As an example of what happens on a continual basis around the Majors, the same MLB.com Auction currently is taking bids for the signed pink bats that so many players used on Mother's Day, for another initiative that helps Komen for the Cure.
Individual clubs also will support the ALS cause in their own ways today. For example, "American Idol" finalist Michael Johns will perform the national anthem prior to the Orioles-Angels game; the Phillies have raised more than $865,000 for ALS this year alone; and Minnesota is one of many clubs that have donated a suite for ALS families.
In support of the "4♦ALS" initiative, MLB Network will air a special "Studio 42 with Bob Costas" featuring an interview with Ripken at 8 p.m. on Sunday, followed at 9 p.m. by the Academy Award-winning movie "The Pride of the Yankees."
MLB.com has established an online community at mlb4als.mlblogs.com, where representatives of the four organizations working with Major League Baseball, as well as others impacted by ALS, are collaborating to share stories, research and further opportunities to unite in support of ALS. The four leading organizations working with MLB on the "4♦ALS" campaign are: The ALS Association, ALS TDI, MDA's Augie's Quest and Project A.L.S. ALS destroys the nerve cells controlling muscles, ultimately causing complete paralysis. The average life expectancy is three to five years after diagnosis.
"Major League Baseball is sitting in front of more people, being seen, heard and watched by more pairs of eyes than at any time in its history," said Curt Schilling, who has been a longtime champion of efforts to help fight ALS. "On July 4th of this year more people will receive an introduction to ALS, what it is, what it does and what it means, than on any day in the history of mankind. For that we have Commissioner Bud Selig to thank. ... MLB has the power to change the world when focused and delivering the right message, and I am proud to see that message being presented to the world this year."
As with the games on Memorial Day earlier this year, all Major League on-field personnel will wear special "Stars & Stripes" caps all weekend. The caps have the American flag etched into the team's logo and are red in color (the Blue Jays hat incorporates a Maple Leaf design instead of the "Stars & Stripes"). These MLB Authentic Collection caps, produced by New Era, are available for purchase in the MLB.com Shop, with $1 of each sale going to Welcome Back Veterans. In addition, Major League Baseball Properties will donate all of the proceeds it receives from the sales of those caps to Welcome Back Veterans.
Welcome Back Veterans was created last year by Mets Chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon and a group of private citizens. Supported by Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media and the McCormick Foundation, the goal of Welcome Back Veterans is to raise $100 million and provide 100,000 job opportunities for veterans.
With its second round of grants in April 2009, Welcome Back Veterans has awarded $5.5 million to 24 non-profit agencies across the country targeting veterans' greatest needs, including mental health and job training/placement. Welcome Back Veterans has teamed with the University Hospitals of Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, the University of Michigan and Stanford, all of which are developing treatment procedures for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues of returning Veterans and their families. In addition, Welcome Back Veterans is working closely with corporate America to provide 100,000 job opportunities for returning Veterans.
These are two important causes that will be front and center on this Fourth of July weekend for baseball fans. Considering all of the storylines happening on the field, the announcement of the All-Star rosters and all of the activities that normally are associated with Independence Day excitement, it is looking like an unforgettable weekend around the game.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.