KANSAS CITY — Major League Baseball just announced the pregame and in-game activities that are not, you know, the actual game. National Anthems and first pitches and things of that nature.
Last year I observed that the level of patriotism and troops-related stuff in this mix — much of it corporately sponsored and, we learned later, likely paid for as an advertisement for the military — was high. This year it seems like they ratcheted it back a little bit. Here are the events listed:
- George Brett will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game One;
- Pop star Andy Grammer — who I have not heard of because I am old and out of touch with such things — will perform the National Anthem. The de riguerlarge American flag in the outfield will be held by airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base and at the Anthem’s conclusion there will be a flyover of U.S. Navy F-18s. If the fog currently sitting over Kansas City doesn’t lift by then we won’t see them, of course;
- “Prior to Game One, Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. visited the local Boys & Girls Club as Major League Baseball and the Royals hosted a fun, baseball-skills oriented event . . . This effort sought to highlight the game’s commitment to youth, particularly through the PLAY BALL initiative, and to celebrate Baseball’s partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America . . .”
- “God Bless America” will be performed by United States Air Force Technical Sergeant Keisha Gwin.
- “BUDWEISER OUR HERO SEATS: Sergeant Aaron Becker – Sergeant Aaron Becker served in the United States Army for eight years as a combat engineer and explosive ordinance clearance agent. Deployed twice, he and his patrol searched for improvised explosive devices, personally finding fifty-four bombs and disposing of them. Hit by 17 total IEDs while in Afghanistan, Sergeant Becker was severely injured by three of them, causing concussions and damage to his spine. The recipient of three Purple Hearts, he also received the Bronze Star for his leadership and Army Commendation Medal with Valor for saving three men after their truck was hit by an IED.”
- “BUCK O’NEIL LEGACY SEAT: Henry Wash – Henry Wash was raised in an underserved community and saddled with a myriad of issues, but overcame those circumstances largely due to the mentoring he received throughout his life. Wanting to return the favor, he started High Aspirations, a proactive mentoring program for African-American males, ages 8 to 18. The mission of the program is to raising aspirations by initiating innovative ways to improve lives – socially, emotionally, academically, and spiritually. Wash hopes, that through this program, he can change the direction of the young men in the Kansas City urban core, resulting in a stronger community.”
- “FIRST-BALL DELIVERY: Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year, Whitney Stewart, 18, from the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota County in Sarasota, Florida, will deliver the ceremonial first ball to the mound with former Royals pitcher Danny Jackson, who was a key player for the 1985 World Series Champion Royals, winning both Game Five of the ALCS and Game Five of the World Series. Stewart is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.”
While that may seem like a lot of patriotism and troops-related things — and while we still somehow need Budweiser to sponsor the giving away of a couple of seats when both the Royals and Major League Baseball have the ability to do that themselves — last year was way more over the top.
Last year the Commissioner’s visit by Bud Selig was of a local veteran’s group, accompanied by the V.A. Secretary and one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There was also a special first pitch by a local veteran. The Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat was also bestowed on a veteran, in honor of his military service. There was a special item that didn’t deal with an event, actually, it was just a note that Bank of America sponsored the flags at the stadium entrances. There was an item noting that the son of an army major would be announcing “play ball.” There was also a note about a new “Welcome Back Veterans” commercial on the Fox broadcast.
As I said last year, it’s hard to take issue with any one of those efforts, but it’s also the case that the obligatory manner in which we have imported patriotism and honoring of the military into baseball has caused us to lose sight of the fact that, even if doing these things are good and admirable, when we make our patriotism obligatory and mindless, we lose an essential part of it, which is thoughtfulness.
Having spoken with some baseball sources about this over the past year, I got the sense that there is some of this feeling shared at the league office as well. That, however well-intentioned all of this is, baseball sort of painted itself into a corner with all of this since 9/11 and doesn’t know how to get out of it without looking callous or less-than-patriotic. If that is true, and perhaps the solution they settled on is to remove an item or two from the pregame patriotic agenda each year. Which is probably the best way to handle it, really.