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Baseball game fosters respect for armed forces

Players from the U.S. Military All-Stars team line the dugout. Photo by Ken Maldonado
TimesLedger Newspapers

Fans who made their way to St. John’s University saw more than just a good baseball game last Friday night.

The exhibition baseball contest between the U.S. Military All-Stars and the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League All-Stars, won 5-4 by the ACBL, served as a great reminder of how lucky we are as Americans. It also put faces to those who help keep it that way.

Taking place so close to the Fourth of July, it provided an ample opportunity to reflect, especially for the college athletes playing for the ACBL summer league.

“It makes you step back and makes you appreciate where you are right now, being able to play college baseball and live life with freedom,” said Chris Smith, the ACBL centerfielder and current Wagner College standout.

In the other dugout, the U.S. military team was filled with players their own age who had experienced things far from that of an average person, let alone a college kid. Baseball gives these servicemen another way to represent their country without being on the front lines of Afghanistan or Iraq. It’s something they take seriously.

“You represent something bigger than a baseball team,” said Brandon Wheeler, who did two tours of duty with the U.S. Air Force.

The game is part of the military team’s Red, White and Blue Tour across the country this summer. They recently made stops on Long Island and in Boston. The proceeds from the contest go to the Wounded Warriors Project. Bringing a game of this caliber to St. John’s was the brainchild of Jack Kaiser, the school’s former athletic director and baseball coach, who is also an ACBL founder.

He wanted a way to promote amateur baseball in the area and get the ACBL players some good competition. Honoring those who served past and present was an added bonus.

“What can be more meaningful than to say thank you to all the guys, most of which have been overseas,” said Kaiser, a World War II veteran. “They are helping us to be free Americans.”

He said he hopes to make the game an annual event. The ACBL has also contacted the national baseball team with regards to coming to New York City to play a game.

This contest with the military stars gave a taste of subtle symbolism. There was a presentation of an American flag to Kaiser for his service done with military precision and respect. The military all-stars don’t have their last names on the backs of their camouflage jerseys, but people and phrases related to America, like Jefferson, Commitment, Ranger and Memorial Day.

It took a game as American as baseball and used it to summon further respect, recognition and patriotism.

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