13th annual Military Appreciation Day held at Hammons Field
Story and photos by Matt Decker
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines were cheered by a large crowd of 5,961 fans Saturday, as Fort Leonard Wood Military Appreciation Day festivities took place at Hammons Field in Springfield, Missouri.
“It means a lot for us to be here,” said Brig. Gen. Donna Martin, U.S. Army Military Police School commandant.
As part of the day’s events, Martin and USAMPS Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. James Breckinridge toured Hammons Field, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate team, the Springfield Cardinals. Martin addressed members of the Springfield Cardinals before their game with the visiting Tulsa Drillers, and she and Breckinridge got to throw out ceremonial first pitches during pre-game activities.
Martin also conducted an Oath of Enlistment ceremony, inducting about 15 Springfield-area recruits into the Army at home plate before a cheering crowd.
Martin said the event was, “an amazing opportunity” to show civilian communities what Fort Leonard Wood is all about.
“I think it gives the public a sneak-behind-the-curtain view of what we do,” Martin said. “It introduces them to us, and also shows them why we serve.”
Breckinridge described the event as an opportunity to, “recognize and honor our nation, and also be able to come out and recognize our Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines.”
“I’m proud to be a part of this great organization,” he added.
Also proud to serve as the host site for the day’s events were several members of the Springfield Cardinals’ staff, including Dan Reiter, the team’s vice president and general manager. Reiter said the annual event — sponsored for the 13th consecutive year this year by Infuze Credit Union — is one of the first events team officials look for when they put together their season schedule.
“This is a great highlight of the year for us,” Reiter told Martin, Breckinridge and Infuze representatives as they arrived at the ballpark. “We know it takes a lot of work and a lot of logistics (to make this happen), and we appreciate you being here.”
Before service members ever stepped onto Hammons Field Saturday, some Fort Leonard Wood military children had a chance to play on it. Several members of the post’s Youth Sports baseball teams had a chance to play a game of catch as part of the Field of Dreams Dugout Team.
Evan Becker, who coaches the coed Youth Sports Cardinals for players ages 8 and 9, said his players were “very excited” for the chance to play on a professional field.
“They’re happy that Fort Leonard Wood and the Springfield Cardinals were able to do this for them,” Becker said. “They thoroughly enjoy it. They like playing baseball, and this just gives them an opportunity to see the field, see how the older ball players play and work on their technique. They get to see how to stand, how to bat, how to throw the ball. It’s a good learning experience for them.”
One of the highlights of the pre-game ceremonies was the parade of Fort Leonard Wood service members onto the field, where they lined up along the first- and third-base lines. With the 399th Army Band in place and ready to play the National Anthem, the Joint Services Color Guard walked onto the field.
“Honestly, it’s an honor to get to come out here and do this,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ronnie Cooper, one of four Soldiers who were part of the color guard.
“To come out here and enjoy the sport of baseball and to get to represent the Army and present the colors (is great),” Cooper said.
Military Appreciation Day is one of several large events the 399th Army Band plays each year, but few are more significant, according to Staff Sgt. Cheryl Hutchinson.
“It’s awesome. This is really what we’re here for,” Hutchinson, a clarinetist in the band, said after getting her ticket scanned on her way into the ballpark following the band’s performance.
“(We’re here) to represent the Army to the general public. So, it’s a great source of pride for me to be able to represent everyone who’s serving around the world,” Hutchinson said.
Another member of the band, Spc. Princess Kirchner, sang “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.
While the Springfield Cardinals jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, the Redbird team ultimately fell to the Drillers, 6-2, after the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers put up two runs each in the third, seventh and ninth innings.
After the final out, fans of both teams and Fort Leonard Wood were treated to a post-game fireworks display.