Today is Veterans Day here in the United States of America, November 11th every year. This day is a time for sports writers all over the country to write flowery retrospectives about the host of veterans who also became heroes on the baseball field as well as the battlefield. I’ve written them myself, Ralph Kiner, Roberto, the list goes on and on.
This time though, I thought I’d take a bit of a departure and write about what this day and those players mean to me.
First, a little about my background, well, my Father’s more specifically. My Dad started his military career as Vietnam was in it’s infancy. Proudly serving in the United States Navy for 33 years and retired a Master Chief. His career took him from active duty and multiple deployments all over the world and ultimately to reenlisting to the reserves after trying to be a civilian only for a while.
He ran training camps in North Carolina, coordinated supply for most of the Eastern Seaboard and transitioned into the Sea Bees to finish his career. I’m so proud of him and what he did to protect our country, I’m even more proud of how he embraced it.
He was and is quite proud of his service and what he accomplished, in fact if he had it his way he’d probably still be involved, but that didn’t mean he liked to talk about it. In fact one of the only things I knew about his service came from my Uncle George who my Dad met on his first boat. George took my Dad home with him on leave where he met my Mom and well, here I am.
The baseball connection and my interest in history were sparked at an early age. I was a sports nut, played just about everything you could play, watched everything that was on TV and did it all without my Dad who largely doesn’t care about any sporting event save the annual Army-Navy game.
I remember one Christmas I had asked for GI Joe’s, like a ton of them, and my Dad was thrilled that I was interested in the military. In reality I just wanted a toy and when he asked me what I wanted to be I said a baseball player. At that age I couldn’t sense the downturn in his enthusiasm to talk about it, but he started to tell me about baseball players who did both.
He talked about Bob Feller, Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, I mean, this was a list of guys I’d heard about on my Earl Weaver computer game for the Tandy 2000, but hearing him mention them made it come to life for me somehow. I started collecting baseball cards and we would go to flea markets where I would buy old cards with my grass cutting money.
One day showing him my collection he asked why I was collecting the players I had in my binder and I told him they were all in the military too.
As a father myself now, I understand what was going through his head. It’s that moment when you realize your kid heard you and cared about what you were saying, even if they didn’t seem to get it at the time.
It’s easy in today’s world to forget that serving wasn’t always a choice and it’s because of the efforts of those generations that is no longer fact. They fought for us, they gave us part of the prime of their lives, some gave their lives, and baseball was how I found the connection to engage.
I have immense reverence for those players, and what I’ve come to realize is they’re really a surrogate for how I feel about what my own Father did. They are the vehicle, but he is the embodiment of what I’m really proud of.
On this Veterans Day, let’s celebrate those players, but let’s also make sure we take a moment to thank those around us who served without baseball as their next stop.