Special is increasingly difficult to find as this Braves season clatters and wheezes into its second half. And sometimes you have to really go out of your way to find special. But it is still out there to be had, thankfully.
The Braves’ quirky little detour to Fort Bragg (N.C.) for a Sunday night game/tribute to the troops against the Miami Marlins figures to be one of the highlights of an otherwise trying and nondescript season.
Playing in the first regular-season game staged on an active military base – the largest in terms of population in the world – on the July 4th weekend is just about the best idea baseball has come up with since built-in cup-holders in the stands.
More than lip service, baseball is paying tangible appreciation to the people who stand between us and a crazed world. Building a ballpark on what was an abandoned golf course, jamming the place solely with military personnel (free tickets) for a game that is not some hollow exhibition but actually counts in the standings – that’s a big statement by the game and the players union.
Understand that this is just not an uplifting experience for the troops. How about a team that resides in the sulphurous depths of its division, with no hope of competing for much more the last 80 games? It should be a bit of a morale boost for the Braves, too.
More than merely playing a game, both teams will be mingling with the troops during the day leading to it, at the epicenter of the Army’s special-forces operations. “No, I’m not jumping out of a plane,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “although I won’t guarantee that at 9 o’clock (an hour into the game) or so.”
It should be a rejuvenating day for all parties.
“Everybody looking at it as an honor,” Snitker said. “It will be an honor to go play for them, give them a little something back. See those guys. Have lunch with them.”
There is something of an understood bond between athletes and the military. Said Matt Wisler, scheduled to start Sunday night against the Marlins: “It’s a mutual respect for what athletes and military guys do. They both go through their own kind of grinds – the military is obviously a little bit harder than ours and more dangerous than what we go through. I think they understand that we work as a team every day. We put in a lot of time into this game like they put in a lot of time in the military.”
Of the scene he is expecting Sunday night, Wisler said, “It will almost feel like a spring training outing with the (12,500-seat) stands and stuff. It won’t be a big stadium, but it will be a big game, on ESPN and everything. It should be pretty exciting night.”
A night in which everyone in the place, from the faceless soldier to any one of the 25 players on a struggling baseball team can feel, well, special.