23 September, 2007

No Crying in Baseball!

As I've noted before, the San Diego Padres have a tremendous track record of supporting local sailors and Marines, including local wounded (and whenever they play in DC, some of the biggest names on the team visit Walter Reed and Bethesda). They also work closely with America Supports You, and are the only MLB team to have a Military Marketing department. For as long as I can remember (I first went to a game in 1986), there have been contingents of sailors or Marine recruits attending Sunday games in San Diego, where their respective branch's songs are played to honor them.

An entire company or two of Marine recruits sit in the right-field end of the U-shaped third deck on Sundays, usually filling two sections of seats from top to bottom. Today was no different, and I enjoyed seeing them file into their seats from my perch at field level (my tickets were a gift). As usual, the Padres plied them with T-shirts and gifts, and the recruits held their best salute as the National Anthem was played.

But it had been a very long time since I'd attended a Sunday baseball game, longer than I can remember; I'm a different person than I was the last time I saw Marine recruits at the stadium.

And so, I got blindsided.

In the middle of the 5th inning, the flourishes start to sound and the crowd stands and begins to clap to the beat, looking toward the hundreds of Marine recruits standing at attention on the third level in the rightfield corner.

Then the opening notes of the first verse reverberate: From the Halls of Montezuma.... Images of the Marines I have known suddenly flood my mind--the older veterans I've met, and the wounded and dead of this war. I am somewhat disappointed in myself to discover that I now have the same emotional reaction to the Marine Corps Anthem as I do the National Anthem.

We fight our Country's battles... these young men have enlisted in time of war, as "I support the troops while I stab them in the back" types do their dirty work... I remember a recent conversation I'd had with a friend about the powderkeg much of the world seems to be right now.

First to fight for right and freedom... I think of how the hard training these recruits are undertaking is an important link in what allows us to feel safe and enjoy such frivolous things as this baseball game.

And to keep our honor clean... The scoreboard display shows close-ups of the recruits as they stand at attention: eyes forward, heads high, shoulders back... that developing confidence beginning to be visible in their newly-acquired bearing. I think of too much at once to even write--of Valour-IT, of manufactured scandals and the horrors of war, of the stories of homefront triumph and tragedy, and of how the abysmal and dishonorable behavior of so many of our elected officials contrasts with the honorable tradition into which these young men are folding themselves.

We are proud to claim the title... No, not yet... but I am so proud to think that my country can inspire them to service, so proud of the Corps' ability to mold them into the fine young warriors we need, and absolutely heartbroken over what I fear their futures may hold. My heart swells with conflicting emotions, and the two tears welling in my eyes finally fall. I try to quickly wipe them away as we sit down. Because, after all...

There is no crying in baseball!

And I broke that rule today.

[Update: edited for grammar, additional links in the first paragraph.]