Major League Baseball brings game ‘to these soldiers’

“I’ve been watching the Atlanta Braves play since I was 12 years old back when they were playing at Fulton-County Stadium in Atlanta, and just to see this team come out here and do this for us, it’s just overwhelming,” Burnett, an Atlanta native, said.

“We can’t be thankful enough.”

One of 162 regular-season games for both teams, it had much more significance as the first regular-season game of a major professional sport played on an active military installation.

In the game, J.T. Realmuto drove in a run in the fifth with a single to right and hit a solo home run to center in the ninth as the Marlins pulled out a 5-2 victory.

Realmuto went 3 for 5 and scored three times.

The game capped a busy day for players and Major League Baseball officials long before the Braves and Marlins began play on a field that didn’t even exist roughly four months earlier, when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred promised “a unique event” in honor of the military for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

By Sunday evening, it looked the part, with soldiers mingling with players around the edge of the field during batting practice.

While Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton autographed a couple of baseballs, Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds stood a few feet away near the dugout shaking hands and posing for photos with soldiers.

As the first pitch drew near, soldiers unfurled a giant American flag in the outfield for the singing of the national anthem.

That was punctuated by four Army helicopters staging a low diamond-formation flyover from beyond the center-field wall to the newly constructed press box to roars from the crowd filling the temporary bleachers around the field.

“They brought baseball to these soldiers,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the sprawling U.S. Army post in the sandhills of North Carolina.

Bragg and MLB officials had worked since March to build the stadium on the site of an abandoned former golf course.

The $5 million project was financed by MLB and the players association to create a ballpark with temporary seating holding 12,500.

Workers laid Bermuda grass sod, followed by the field, in May.

The project also included a drainage system that will remove 8 to 10 inches of water per hour — which was set to possibly get a workout with rain forecast into the evening, but conditions remained dry.

The final product was a field that players association executive director Tony Clark said “looks like it’s been here forever.”

Afterward, the bleachers will be removed and the field will be converted into use for recreational play.

“When I got here and saw it for the first time in person, I have to say I was just blown away by the quality of the field itself,” Manfred said. “The playing surface, the quality of the scoreboard, just the overall feel of the facility was really beyond what I expected.”

Players and MLB officials also made several stops around the Army post.

Players visited a parachute packing facility.

Manfred, Clark and MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre went to the Fisher House, which provides military families with housing close to loved ones during hospitalizations.

During that stop, Manfred, Torre and Clark met people whose family members had used the facility. When one woman told them she didn’t follow baseball all that closely and thought at least one game she attended was quite long, Torre was quick with a quip.

“If you have a complaint,” the Hall of Famer said, pointing to Manfred, “here’s the commissioner of baseball.”

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