Veterans Day Batting Practice a hit at Dodger Stadium

It began eight years ago and has become one of the biggest events held annually at Dodger Stadium – Veterans Day Batting Practice.

“To watch these families come in, we have over 300 families, they’re veterans and active military,” explains Dodgers vice president of external affairs and community relations Naomi Rodriguez. “But it’s not just the actual veteran or the military, it’s their mother, and their father, and their daughter, and their grandparents. Those are the people also that are supporting our military that serve our country.

“So when I see them walk into the stadium, there’s this …  it’s like amazing feeling in their eyes. Kids are walking into Dodger Stadium, this beautiful stadium, on the field. How many people get to walk on the field and then enjoy it the way our players enjoy it? So that, for me, is just a great way to say ‘thank you’ to them, to honor their service, and I know they look forward to coming every year.”

There were a lot of smiles when the gates opened for Veterans Day Batting Practice at Dodger Stadium on Saturday morning. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

It was impossible not to notice that there are far more women serving in the military than there once was; something that most certainly isn’t lost on Rodriguez or on our society as a whole.

“I love it. I love all the men and women that serve, but I love to see women in leadership roles. I love it,” Naomi said, excitedly. “I think it’s inspiration for our young women and it’s great, it’s wonderful.”

One such female veteran on hand at Dodgers Stadium on Saturday was 30-year-old Jessica Pena of Sunland, California, who served in the United States Army.

“This is the first time I’ve done it. An Army recruiter told me that she was thinking about it and told me about it,” said Pena, who proudly admits that she is a lifelong Dodger fan. “This is actually amazing. I’m kind of speechless. I’m just trying to take it all in. It’s amazing that they do something like this.”

Army veteran Jessica Pena (black sunglasses) listens in as former Dodgers left-hander Dennis Powell shares a story with Jessica’s family. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

Every veteran registered for Saturday’s Veterans Day Batting Practice event had his or her name appear below the Dodger Stadium video board above the Left Field Pavilion, including the aforementioned Pena.
(Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

On hand for Saturday’s event were Dodgers alumni Ron Cey, Billy Ashley, Dennis Powell and Manny Mota. As most Dodger fans know, Mota held the record for most pinch-hits in MLB history at 150 when he retired in 1982 at age 44. That record was later topped by fellow one-time Dodgers Mark Sweeney and Lenny Harris. The Dodger legend was visibly emotional when speaking about our veterans on this special day.

“It is a great pleasure and privilege to be here today to honor the veterans. I like to thank all of them for what they do to serve the country, protect the country, protect the nation,” said the 79-year-old Mota. “They put their life on the line to protect the greatest nation in the world, the United States of America.

“I appreciate what they do for the country and I am in support of them 150 percent,” added Mota. “This is great for the Dodgers organization to do this in honor of the veterans because they deserve this and much more.”

There was nothing pretentious or artificial about this embrace that Dodger great Manny Mota gave to a military veteran on Saturday morning. It was as sincere and heartfelt as it could possibly be.
(Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

Dodgers 1981 World Series tri-MVP Ron Cey echoed the sentiments of Mota and his fellow alumni on hand on an absolutely beautiful day in the City of Angels.

“These people behind the scenes in a sense are providing our security and our freedom from the rest of the world,” said Cey. “We rely on them heavily and we are very appreciative of the efforts that they have put forth to secure our freedom over many many many years.”

The 69-year-old former Dodgers third baseman said that he comes from a family of military veterans and was himself in the Coast Guard Reserve.

“My father actually spent a bit of time in the second world war overseas,” said the man affectionately known as The Penguin. “He came back, met my mother, the family grew.

“Actually I had to get into a reserve unit back during the Viet Nam war in the mid-60s,” Cey added. “I was a medic, so I had a chance to serve briefly. I think our country, everybody, no matter what size or age, appreciate the efforts of our military.”

Former Dodgers third baseman Ron Cey poses for a photo with one of the more than 300 current and former military members on hand for Saturday’s Veterans Day Batting Practice event.
(Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

But the real gut-wrenching story came from the man know as Light Tower Power, former Dodgers slugger Billy Ashley, who roamed left field at Dodger Stadium from 1992 through 1997.

“I’ve done this several times, this is actually going to be my eighth. So if it’s the eighth annual, I’ve done all of them,” said Ashley. “I love it. It’s a great way to show our appreciation to the troops – both the men and women – for the sacrifice that they make on a day-to-day basis for this country and its freedom.

“Having a veterans background, my father was a Viet Nam vet and I spent a lot of time with him at the VA hospital where I’ve had opportunities as a Dodger and as a civilian to go in and talk to the veterans and hear their stories,” Ashley added. “It just impresses the hell out of me every time that I can sit and talk with a veteran. It’s one of those things that people look at us as heroes but I look at them as heroes because they’re the real heroes, they gave us this opportunity to wear this uniform.”

Former Dodgers outfielder Billy Ashley signs an autograph for one of the many female veterans honored at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

But it’s what the 6′-7″ / 220-pound former outfielder said next that really put all of this in true perspective.

“My father was a Marine, he fought in Viet Nam, he was a Purple Heart, sergeant, he had the whole thing,” Ashley said. “He enlisted, he went over there, he was injured, he was blown up, he had to learn to speak, walk, talk, all of that stuff all over again. So he’s had his problems and they continue now.

“He’s had his issued with his past, being a veteran, and that stuff just moves forward,” continued Ashley. “You feel for these guys that have those issues that have transpired over their career as a veteran in every branch of service. I just hope that they get the treatment and the facilities that they need to feel normal again.

“It’s a sad thing that there are so many veterans out there, whether it be homeless veterans or veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that aren’t getting the healthcare that they need, and that’s the sad part,” said Ashley. “And that’s one of the reasons why we’re out here, to give our support and give a little bit of a mouthpiece to let people know through [the media] that we care. And as much as we care, the rest of the country should care. And you know what? The government should step up and do more, and they need to do more.”

Gut-wrenching indeed.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.
(Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

But on this day the Dodgers organization made it abundantly clear that they do care, and will continue to do so in the future.

“As far as Billy’s father, for those who have been injured or hurt, we can’t take that back but we can honor their service. We can honor what they have done for our country,” Rodriguez said. “This is one way we do it. We do it also every home game in the middle of the second inning, we honor a Military Hero of the Game.

“I love that our fans, they get on their feet, they stop what they’re doing. It brings me chills,” added Rodriguez. “Fifty thousand people are on their feet thanking our Military Hero of the Games … and not a few, everybody gets on their feet, and this is one reasons why they do it. I love to see that every game.”

Rodriguez finished by saying that the Dodgers have every intention of continuing their annual Veterans Day Batting Practice event and, in fact, are looking for future ways to thank and honor our military service men and women, and our veterans.

“Absolutely. If we can expand, if there are new ways that we can honor the military, we will,” Rodriguez said. “But for sure, on Veterans Day every year it’s on our calendar. We have our Veterans Day Batting Practice and will continue to do that.”

Well done, Dodgers.

…and thank you, veterans. Just thank you.


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One Response to “Veterans Day Batting Practice a hit at Dodger Stadium”

  1. oldbrooklynfan says:

    I spent most of the day, Saturday, watching military movies and the like depicting movies and other events of all the wars, mostly on the History Channel and TCM.
    This article on Veteran’s day batting practice added to this wonderful time I’ve set aside. I found it a great way to honor our veterans.

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