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MLB gives All-Star Week gift to St. Albans Veterans hospital

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Photo gallery

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Willie Burks, past commander of the VFW District 1 Command, walks through the garden with his wife Dora Burks of the VFW 1896 Post. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg (l.) shares a laugh with New York Mets Chairman and CEO Fred Wilpon. Photo by Caroll Alvarado
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USO singers take the stage and perform for the veterans at the St. Albans Community Living Center. Photo by Caroll Alvarado
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Martina A. Parauda, director of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, addresses the crowd. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Josh Lewin, Mets Radio Broadcaster, emcees the ceremony. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Baseballs were inscribed with messages to veterans as part of the celebration. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Navy veteran John Jablonski holds one of several baseballs inscribed with messages to vets. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Veterans sit in the audience during the event. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Brad Segal, chairman of Rebuilding Together, walks through the new outdoor space. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig addresses the crowd. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A cake with a rotating baseball was made by Carlos' Bakery of the show, "Cake Boss," for the event at St. Albans Community Living Center in Queens. Photo by Christina Santucci

America’s pastime paid tribute to those who served in the name of Old Glory when Major League Baseball unveiled a renovated outdoor space at the Veterans Affairs hospital in St. Albans earlier this week.

Volunteers with Rebuilding Together NYC put the finishing touches on the landscaped area Monday afternoon on the eve of the league’s All-Star game at Citi Field.

“Every year it is an important tradition for Major League Baseball to give back in a meaningful way to the community that supports the mid-summer classic,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “Our goal is to leave a lasting and enduring legacy in the New York community by supporting unique community projects that make a difference in people’s lives, like St. Albans community living center.”

Selig said the league has invested more than $57 million in communities since 1997 and will spread more than $5 million around the New York area this year.

The VA hospital space that is lush with new plantings, a strolling walkway, benches and a gazebo was once nothing more than a dirt patch with a few shrubs, and veteran Anthony Soto said it will give the hospital’s residents a place to go.

“Major League Baseball really stepped up and gave us a place where we can really enjoy ourselves,” said the U.S. Marine Corps vet. “It’s giving a lot of veterans a great opportunity to get outdoors.”

New York Mets Chairman Fred Wilpon co-founded the charity group Welcome Back Veterans five years ago, with the intent of bringing medical issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder to the forefront through private/public partnerships with the VA.

“One goal was to create an awareness around this country that there’s 99 percent and 1 percent serving and we have to understand more about the 1 percent,” he said. “We’re pushing very hard so that someday all through this country you’ll be able to get the same treatment, as a veteran, for mental health issues as you do for physical issues, the same as you do for cancer care or heart disease.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city’s more than 200,000 veterans deserve something to cheer about, and he said All-Star week means something to the city, too.

“Most of what it does is it gives us pride, the people living here,” he said. “We have a chance to share in a great American institution.”

And just in case you thought the billionaire mayor was getting too sentimental, he also pointed out that the week’s slate of events was expected to generate more than $190 million in revenue for city businesses.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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