Major Leaguers Tour Pentagon
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 30, 2007 Three pitchers from Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals and about 20 others associated with the team spent their day off at the Pentagon today, exploring the Defense Department’s nerve center and signing autographs for fans.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, a self-described baseball fan, invited the major league visitors here this morning to strengthen the relationship between baseball and the U.S. military.
“We love to support the Nationals, and we appreciate your great support for the Department of Defense and all the people and their families who serve America, and I want to say ‘Thank you,’” England said.
England was accompanied by Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ryozo Kato, who collected several autographs to add to his massive memorabilia collection.
Today’s tour came a day after the Nationals completed and tied a hard-fought series against the New York Mets, currently the National League’s top team. Mike Bacsik, Chad Cordero and Chris Schroder, among the visitors, pitched during the series. Bacsik picked up his fourth win this season in the first showdown against the Mets, allowing only two runs in seven innings. Cordero, better known as “Chief,” threw a perfect ninth inning and earned his 21st save.
Cordero noted that Cal Ripken Jr., who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, played in 2,632 straight games, and said baseball players and servicemembers are similar because both commit themselves to performing hard work on a daily basis.
But baseball players simply offer a diversion for fans, as opposed U.S. military members who serve to protect Americans’ freedom, the Nationals’ closer said.
“They’re out there maintaining our freedom. They’re out there making sure we still have all of our rights that we know and love,” he said. “And for us, we just go out there (and) we’re trying to basically give everybody a place to go to have fun.”
Cordero said it’s an honor to play before servicemembers during the various military appreciation events that occur throughout the season at RFK Stadium, the Nationals’ home field.
“For the troops, I want get a chance to (let them) not think about what their job is for a day,” he said. “We go out there to entertain them, so any time we can do that for them, it’s good, because they’re the ones doing all the fighting for us.”
Meeting the visitors as they arrived by bus from RFK Stadium was Navy Vice Adm. John G. Morgan Jr., deputy chief of naval operations for information, plans and strategy.
“There is nothing more emblematic of what the American way of life is than baseball,” Morgan told the group.
While participating in the first post-9/11 strikes in Afghanistan, Morgan said, he and fellow servicemembers looked to baseball as a “noble distraction” between missions.
“The men and women in combat, a lot of whom are baseball fans, wanted to know what you were doing back here in the United States, to sort of to get our lives back together,” he said. “(They) would go on combat patrols, fly combat missions, then want to get on the Internet and see what the box score was.
“They wanted to know if their home team was winning or losing,” said Morgan, a loyal New York Yankees supporter.
Visitors got a rare glimpse inside the secretive National Military Command Center, as guides ushered them into the Navy’s Service Watch Cell for a nonsensitive peek at how the branch conducts operations from a “macro view,” using GPS and satellite technology to monitor and direct naval elements.
Inquisitive guests tossed questions after their briefing: “What does that map do?” “How did you respond to Sept. 11 attacks?” “How about Hurricane Katrina?”
A tour guide, walking backward, snaked the group around the second story A-ring through Corridor 4, which commemorates the “Soldier Signers of the Constitution.” These 25 men, who led the charge in combat and politics against British colonizers, are commemorated in a series of oil paintings by John Trumball, the tour guide explained as he identified key characters in Trumball’s compositions that hang on the corridor’s walls.
During a somber stretch of the tour, guests learned in detail how roughly 20 percent of the Pentagon was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attack. Inside the point of impact, a room commemorates the 125 Pentagon workers and 59 passengers who died when American Airlines Flight 77 barreled into the building’s western wall.
Later, as visitors filed into the Pentagon briefing room -- the familiar setting portrayed on news broadcasts and recreated in scores of films -- they posed behind the podium affixed with the Defense Department emblem, displaying resolute hand gestures and projecting mock bravado as flashbulbs flicked.
Visitor Alphonso Maldon Jr., senior vice president of external affairs for the Washington Nationals, once knew the briefing room intimately. As assistant secretary of defense for force management Policy from 1998 to 2000, Maldon appeared in the briefing room regularly.
“We really have a great partnership with the Department of Defense, and we’re proud of that partnership,” he told the group. “I know our players, and I know our Nationals front office really have great appreciation for the contribution and the sacrifices that the military make every day.”
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, also keyed in on the importance of the partnership. She encouraged players to film “shout outs” to deployed troops, expressing the Nationals’ collective support of military members. Later, all three players present gladly complied.
“We do research all the time on our military members and what keeps them going, … and the morale of our military is really based on support they feel from the folks back home,” she said. “And so for them to hear from you, for them to know you’re thinking about them … it really keeps the morale of our troops high.”