Fort Bragg Game. Nice.

There’s nothing like a good baseball game to make us feel patriotic.  Maybe it’s the flag flying in center field, hamburgers and hot dogs in the bleachers, or families hanging out together in the sunshine.  Maybe it’s the continuous presence of the sport over the past 170 years.  Or maybe it’s the way baseball embodies the spirit of America:  everyone has the potential to be a star; everyone has a job to do; and when things don’t go right, second chances abound.

But Sunday night’s game between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, brought a new element to the idea of mixing baseball and patriotism.  In a gesture that Major League Baseball officials hatched last fall, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball game was played at Fort Bragg, the U.S. Army base that is also world’s largest military compound.  A $5 million facility with temporary seating for 12,500 was constructed over the last four months with funding provided by the MLB and the MLB Players Association.  The stadium, constructed on an unused golf course and complete with organ music and a jumbo-tron, will be converted to a multi-use facility for the Fort Bragg intramural athletic programs.  Those in attendance were active military members and their immediate families who were awarded free tickets based on a lottery system.

The game was historic for several reasons:  It was the first professional sports game played on an active military base, and it was the first major league game ever played in North Carolina.  The fact that the Braves were chosen to participate was an honor, Atlanta officials repeatedly said.  There were a few complaints from people who thought the money could have been better spent.  But even though season ticket holders (the Braves were scheduled to be home this weekend) and those who already had purchased July 3 tickets lost out on their Sunday afternoon outing, and the Braves may have lost out on the revenue they would have generated on the day of the week that brings in more fans than any other, the overall response was one of happiness and goodwill.

Furthermore, despite the horrific start to the Braves season, and the fact that they can’t seem to beat any of the poor or mediocre teams in the majors, they have held their own with the good teams – especially the Marlins and the Mets – and could have taken the series 3 to 1, but instead tied it with the 5-2 loss during what was deemed the “Fort Bragg Game.”  With the Marlins a half game out of the lead in the National League East coming into the match-up, this game was not only historic and fun, but also significant.

Kudos to Major League Baseball, the Players Association, the Braves and the Marlins; we join them all in saying thank you to the members of our nation’s military.  Their sacrifices and willingness to serve are worthy of the highest honors, and, especially as we celebrate this Independence Day, we are grateful.

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