Military appreciation night makes problems seem minor league
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 25, 2019
I was running late, as usual. A mini-crisis had erupted on email at home, and typing an emergency response had put me behind schedule. My tires squealed turning past the “Lot Full” sign at the parking lot entrance across from the ballpark. I gave the attendant as pathetic a look as I could muster, but before I could beg, he waved his hand toward a space that had just opened up.
After parking, I jogged toward the spot where I had agreed to meet my 24-year-old son, Hayden. He had called two weeks prior to tell me that his employer, Raytheon Company, was sponsoring Military Appreciation Night at a Newport Gulls baseball game. Did I want to go with him? I jumped on the rare invitation from my quirky, loner, too-intelligent-for-his-own-good, software-engineering son.
Hayden was there, as promised, standing in front of the green wooden entrance to Cardines Field, one of the oldest ballparks in the country. The night’s New England Collegiate League game was between our own Rhode Island Newport Gulls and the New Bedford Bay Sox of Massachusetts.
Hayden fished our tickets from the overloaded pocket of his gym shorts, and we entered the old stadium to find seats among the peanut shell-littered wooden bleachers. The tiny ballpark looked more like a little league field than a place where future pros might play, but I loved the nostalgia of it.
As it was Military Appreciation Night, an emcee dressed in red striped pants and a star-studded blue jacket was announcing the names of veterans gathered behind the pitcher’s mound. Navy Band Northeast musicians stood nearby in their crackerjack dress whites, their horns glinting in the setting sun. Past first base, four uniformed reservists held flags, ready to parade the colors onto the field for the National Anthem.
While veterans threw first pitches, the seagull-costumed mascot “Gully” interacted with the modest crowd of Monday night spectators, people lined up for hot dogs and young boys fought for spots closest to the Gulls dugout where they could watch the players, gods in their eyes. All college-aged boys hoping to make it to the majors one day, the players spit, swung, stretched and looked as if they couldn’t have cared less.
I, too, wasn’t paying much attention. I cared more about my email crisis, and couldn’t wait to read the latest string of messages on my phone.
“Mom, you’re gonna miss the first batter,” Hayden scolded while I was texting friends involved in the drama. I watched the first two innings, glancing clandestinely at the phone in my lap, and wondering if I’d get out of there in time to watch “The Bachelorette.”
After the second inning, the Gulls were up 4-0. Hayden made his way down to the concession line for drinks and peanuts, and, of course, I buried my face in my texts, complaining to friends about my crisis du jour.
But then, the speaker crackled with the emcee’s voice. Near the third-base line, a bearded man with a prosthetic limb caught my attention. The emcee introduced him as Army Sgt. Brandon Deaton, accompanied by his wife and two small children.
Deaton, the emcee explained, lost his left leg in a roadside explosion in Iraq.
The crowd quieted, and even the players took notice.
The emcee announced that he had a surprise for Deaton and his family. From the stands, an all-terrain wheelchair was rolled out, donated by The Independence Fund of Rhode Island. Deaton, stunned, sat in the state-of-the-art device, and drove it onto the pitcher’s mound while the crowd looked on.
Then, one by one, people stood up from their phones and peanuts and licorice whips. I stood too, and we all applauded this brave American hero. In that moment, as a fat tear rolled down my cheek, the jumbled priorities of my world were magically reset.
Major crises become bush league annoyances when one considers those who give life and limb to serve in the U.S. military.