Memorial day and a trip to the ball game

If you ever want your Americana laid on extra thick, try to catch a baseball game on America’s annual Memorial Day, the last Monday in May and the starting gun of summer.

Memorial day and a trip to the ball game

With winter a distant memory, the US spends much of Sunday and especially Monday remembering their war dead (if they’re not barbecuing by a beach) at a range of different ceremonies. Of course baseball has more reason than most sports to pay tribute to history and will always do it with extra mustard.

The pomp and ceremony so particular to what was formerly America’s game is turned up a notch on a day like this; the red, white and blue gleams a little more and the country rock bellows through the ballpark as families and military personnel mingle around the concession stands and gift shops.

It was also Fleet Week in New York City so everywhere you looked, there were pristinely dressed men and women of the US navy wandering around as tourists by day and partying hard in their whites with civilians by night.

Invitations to baseball games and MLS games were also part of special privileges, making up somewhat for the endless series of photographs they’re forced to pose for.

The New York Mets were home on Monday after a dismal road trip and maybe there’s nothing like thoughts of war to offer perspective on a brutal run of games that had the “Amazins” winning just one out of the previous six.

I had never been to a ballgame on Memorial Day so I went along to Citi Field to experience what it was like; trying to walk a fine line between a non-national’s cynicism and an expat’s wide-eyed desire to assimilate.

Arriving somewhat early, I was there just in time to watch members of the US Army Black Knights Parachute Team from West Point drift down from the blue sky above Queens. One by one, the six landed gracefully on the outfield as the players warming up around the diamond stared up agog, audience members for the rest of us for a moment.

One parachutist carried the ball for the ceremonial first pitch. Another — the last to land — carried an American flag. The flag seemed to get the biggest cheer.

The patriotic fervour was only going to go in one direction from there. Children of military members recited the pledge of allegiance on the big screen, the USO Show Troupe performed the national anthem and as the first pitch loomed, two fighters flew over our heads off towards Upper Manhattan.

And that’s how you gloss over a country’s many, many ills.

So they played ball and three Mets home runs would subsequently fly off in all directions in a 6-3 win over their hated rivals from Philadelphia.

Afterwards in the packed subway, happy fans threw banter around, palliated by the win and the wooziness only hot dogs and terrible beer can offer.

In the middle of them all, a Navy officer of a relatively high rank pulled out his old mobile phone and hesitated as he tried to work out how to call his wife.

He gave her the full account of the game. There was no filter on his joy. He could not fathom how he had actually been present for a Mets victory.

He had a balcony seat at centre field and told her how he caught a “tainted ball”; the result of a Phillies home run that was the only blip on the day.

He got off in the heart of Queens and disappeared in the mad throng so unique to that borough, his uniform pristine and his fulfillment beyond reproach.

The annual Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony was taking place in and around my deadline on Tuesday in the Midtown Manhattan pub Foley’s, owned by Cavan man Shaun Clancy. Sadly word came through at time of writing that one of the inductees, Shannon Forde, was unable to make it due to health reasons. Ms Forde is a long time Mets PR chief and players — past and present — have been rallying together for her since her cancer diagnosis in 2012.

A heartfelt speech by one of the most famous PR men in American sports, Jay Horwitz, paid tribute to her in her absence and after observing from afar on Monday how they keep everyone in mind, it was rewarding to see the behind-the-scenes Mets family up close at Foleys.

john.w.riordan@gmail.com

Twitter: @JohnWRiordan

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