For the maybe three of you who don’t already know this, Keith was honored on the field at Dodger Stadium on October 7 as the Veteran of the Game. At every home game, the Los Angeles Dodgers honor an active duty or retired military member with an on-field ceremony and free seats for his or her family. Keith’s friend Steve Cole, himself an amazing Army officer, nominated him for this honor. (Thank you, Steve!) It was an incredibly memorable evening for us, capped off by a Dodgers win against the Atlanta Braves to clinch the National League division title and advance to the National League Championship Series!
I want to apologize to my Facebook friends for the onslaught of photos and status updates about that evening. I blame every one of them on my being an extremely proud wife! But my pride is not the reason for this post. This post is to acknowledge the incredible amount of support the Dodgers organization and its fans show for our military. Keith and I were humbled by the onslaught of cheers, handshakes, and kind words he received that evening.
Let me point out that the Dodgers could not have asked for a better Veteran of the Game. Anyone who knows Keith knows that he pretty much eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball. I can also think of few people who love LA—Keith’s hometown—as much as he does. So simply setting foot on the field of Dodger Stadium was a dream come true for him.
The Dodgers’ Veteran of the Game program is run by the wonderful Laura Levinson, the team’s Manager of Community Programs. She told us to arrive at the ballpark an hour ahead of time, which we managed to do despite the infamous LA traffic. Laura escorted Keith down to the field, where he thought he was simply going to chat with her until the national anthem began. But it just so happened that his all-time favorite baseball player, Steve Garvey, was there to throw out the first pitch. Laura arranged for them to meet, a cameraman filmed them talking, and then Keith was interviewed about it on the big screen. He also had a chance to give Don Mattingly his 2-14 CAV pin for good luck before standing on the first base line and saluting the flag for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (The pin proved lucky that night; not so much for the NLCS thus far!)
The actual ceremony honoring Keith took place in the middle of the third inning. He stood on the field just next to the Dodgers’ dugout, looking sharp in his dress blues, as the announcer said a few words about his career and then asked the crowd to give him “a warm Dodger Stadium welcome.” Everyone cheered loudly. Many stood up. It was an incredible moment.
But for me, it wasn’t the highlight of the evening. For me, the best part came after the ceremony. As Keith passed the dugout on his way back to the seats, several Dodgers players hurried over to shake his hand or to pat him on the back. Then, as he made his way up the aisle toward me, so many fans rushed over to thank him for his service. It was breathtaking for me to watch.
But it didn’t end there. We still had to make our way back to the Dodgers office so that Keith could change out of his uniform. As we did, fans kept stopping him to shake his hand and to thank him for his service. Every time we’d start to move again, more people would surround him. And it wasn’t because he was a famous ballplayer or a celebrity. It was simply because they wanted to thank and show respect for a veteran. What an unbelievable feeling for both of us!
Big-city folks sometimes get a bad rap for seemingly being out of touch with the military. Dodgers fans also often get a bad rap for supposedly being bullies. But I didn’t see any of that in these fans, so many of whom went out of their way to simply thank a member of the military. (Even later in the game, when a rowdy man in a Braves jersey stumbled into our section looking for trouble, everyone just heckled him good-naturedly until he left. I saw no indication of Dodgers fans being jerks!)
Every MLB team supports our troops by holding at least one Military Appreciation Day per season. Many (including the Dodgers) give free or discounted tickets to military members. But what the Dodgers do—taking a few minutes out of every single game to honor a veteran—is truly incredibly.
I did some research and found that several other MLB teams, including the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros—also go above and beyond for the military. In a future post, I will highlight what some of those teams do. But for now, I want to send a huge thank-you to the Dodgers players and staff (especially Laura Levinson) for supporting our nation’s veterans. You are all part of an organization that is truly a class act, and for that, you will always be winners in my book!
As I write this, the Dodgers are down three games to one against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, and are less than two hours away from taking the field for game five. We need a big rally! Let’s Go Dodgers!!!