FORT BRAGG, NC – On the surface, Sunday’s game between the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves looks like a typical regular-season matchup. But unlike other MLB games this weekend, this one has added significance with a bit of history for the Fourth of July weekend.
Sunday’s game will be held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the first time a regular-season game in a professional sport will take place on an active military base.
“It’s going to be cool,” Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “I mean, how can you not look forward to something like that for what those people do for us on a daily basis, to give them three or four hours away, and let them have a different day than what they’re used to?
“They put so much time and effort into keeping us safe and doing their job for the country that if we’re able to distract them for a couple hours, that’s what it’s all about.”
Fort Bragg is the most populated military installations in the United States, with more than 250,000 people in an area of almost 500 square miles. It’s the home of the Army’s Global Response Force, which provides strategic military capabilities globally in defense of the nation’s security interests.
On March 8, MLB and the MLB Players Association announced they would build a new 12,500-capacity stadium at the base, which has been named “Fort Bragg Field.” MLB and the MLBPA announced Thursday that the stadium is now operational. The vast majority of the seats for Sunday’s game are reserved for service members and their families.
Following Sunday’s game, the ballpark will be converted to a permanent multipurpose recreational facility for those who serve there.
“We’re extremely grateful to Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association for their support to our service members and families,” said Col. Brett Funck, Fort Bragg garrison commander. “This historic event and the converted multipurpose facility will have enduring benefits for our entire Fort Bragg community for years to come.”
While it will be a memorable day as a salute to service, it also will have added significance for the players, particularly those with military ties.
Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich has a brother in the Marine Corps who is currently stationed in Japan. Yelich admits that while he get chills when the national anthem plays before games, Sunday will likely take his emotion up a notch.
“You’re not going to take it for granted,” Yelich said. “There’s a national anthem every night before the game, and it’s just another thing you have to do. I think that night, the guys are going to appreciate it so much more, when you realize the guys who are fighting for your freedom, and the ability to have a baseball game and play baseball are the ones (who are) there.”
And what better time to do it in prime time. The game is at 8 p.m. ET, when no other games are scheduled.
“To go there and honor the troops by playing the game that is our pastime, there’s really nothing more American than that,” Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler said.
Note: A previous version of this story included a CNN interview with pitcher Edwin Jackson when he was with the Marlins. Jackson now plays for the San Diego Padres.