Baseball and the military have a history so intertwined it’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly the relationship began. Was it the Civil War when soldiers played baseball to keep their minds occupied? Was it during World War I as players first had to leave the game to serve their country? Was it beyond that? No matter when the bond was truly formed, the game and the military have a special, unique relationship. Such is the case with the San Diego Padres and all branches of the military.
San Diego is a military town, and their love of servicemen runs deep. The Navy, the Marines, the Army, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, and Airmen (and women) from the Air Force call America’s Finest City home. And the city does not take this lightly. Every year, the team honors their military heroes with free games, designated sections in the stands, on-field ceremonies, and perhaps most notable, camouflage jerseys.
Since 2008, the Padres have worn camouflage jerseys to show support for the military. After requesting permission from Major League Baseball, the Padres began wearing the jerseys, and since their inception, fans outside of San Diego have complained. Whether it be complaints of how “ugly” the uniforms are (which ESPN agrees with), or suggestions that fans can’t actually see the team when they wear these jerseys, those outside the Padres world don’t care for and don’t understand the jerseys.
The Padres have been THE team of the military for a number of years now. They have hosted Marines and Marine recruits for well over a decade. Every Sunday home game is dedicate to our service men and women. Many times, the on-field activities before the game include members of all branches getting their turn at singing the National Anthem. God Bless America is sung at every military appreciation game. The fact is, San Diego loves the military, the Padres understand the sacrifice, and the celebrations include everything from jerseys to ceremonial first pitches.
The beauty of baseball is in its healing powers, its distraction, and its ability to turn our baseball heroes into mere mortals as they bow to those who serve this country selflessly. The ugliness of war is something that nothing should be able to overcome, but baseball does. Young men and women, eager for a chance to watch ball players play the game they love, pour into Petco Park. They are hoping to forget of the horrors they will face, the danger they will encounter, and the pain they will suffer – if only for an afternoon. These people make the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy our freedoms, so that we can enjoy baseball. And baseball repays them in the best way that it can.
The distraction the game provides has been an ongoing theme in times of turmoil in this country. Franklin D. Roosevelt asked that baseball go on during World War II as the men and women of the United States needed something to take their minds of work more than ever before. After 9/11, baseball was such a welcome relief from the real world, that for nine innings you could just be a fan and forget our country’s most devastating moment.
So the San Diego Padres honor the military with their camouflage jerseys and Sunday home games. Any baseball fan, any military fan, any American should see those uniforms and be proud. They should see those uniforms and wish their own team had dedicated themselves the way the Padres have. The jerseys can never be ugly. They represent something more than baseball. They represent a level of respect unmatched by anything in this world.
San Diego’s celebration of the military should be commended. Instead, the uniforms they wear on Sundays are mocked. The players love them, the fans in San Diego love them, and the servicemen and women love them. The last group is all that matters since they are the true heroes. They are the ones these jerseys were designed for. They are the one the team honors like no other club in baseball.
The relationship between baseball and the military will go on. There will be moments going forward that this country needs baseball as a welcome relief as men and women activate and head into battle. San Diego makes sure the tradition of respect and honor we all have for the military lives on. With Military Opening Day this past Sunday, the Padres made a gesture that can only be made in this great sport. Distraction, relief, honor, and respect.