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San Diego Padres Salute Military

By U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp / Special to American Forces Press Service

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathaniel Leoncia, a corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, throws a ceremonial pre-game pitch as part of the San Diego Padres’ salute to the military at Petco Park, July 4, 2007. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp

.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class J.J. Gentry sings the national anthem as part of the San Diego Padres’ salute to the military at Petco Park, July 4, 2007. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp

SAN DIEGO, July 6, 2007 - In a tribute to the military and Independence Day, Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres went with a different-looking uniform for their game at Petco Park here, July 4, 2007.

Sporting desert-camouflage-style uniform shirts, the Padres took on the Florida Marlins. Before the game began, the Padres gave a salute to the military in their opening ceremony in honor of Independence Day.

While including servicemembers in the pre-game festivities is a nice gesture, the Padres have taken it a step further.

Before the game began, they announced a partnership with America Supports You, a Defense Department program that helps American individuals, organizations and companies show their support for U.S. men and women serving in the military.

Fans who attended the game, which was broadcast around the globe on the Armed Forces Radio Network, were also given the opportunity to send a group "text message" to U.S. Forces stationed around the world.

Role players bearing the American flag and dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms stood in a line behind the pitcher’s mound as Navy Petty Officer 1st Class J.J. Gentry, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, sang the national anthem.

"I tried not to talk beforehand so my voice would be perfect," Gentry said. "It was a good feeling being in front of all these people."

Gentry, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who was dressed in uniform, said the day had more significance than just singing in front of a large group. "I love this great nation, I love being able to serve in my military," he said. "It means a lot to me."

After Gentry completed the Star-Spangled Banner, two pitches were thrown before the game officially began.

Marine Lance Cpl. Josh McAlvey, a 22-year-old military policeman, tossed out the first ceremonial pitch. McAlvey's wife entered him in a contest on a radio station, and he was ultimately selected to do the honors. "It's a buzz to be here on the field," said McAlvey, a Lake Chelan, Wash., native. "I really can't believe it."

McAlvey, also an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, smiled when he was asked what the Fourth of July meant to him. He described the significance of the day as the "reason behind why we fight."

A third war veteran also took part in the opening ceremony. Throwing out a pitch before the game was Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathaniel Leoncia, a 25-year-old hospital corpsman from Temecula, Calif.

Navy corpsmen serve side-by-side with Marines, usually one per platoon, and act as emergency medics to give on-the-scene treatment when a servicemember is wounded. While serving in Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Leoncia was struck by the blast of an improvised explosive device.

Walking off the field to a stadium full of cheering fans, Leoncia was all smiles as he rejoined his family.

Later on in the game, between innings, Gentry took the field for an encore performance. As "God Bless America" resonated through the stadium, fans were on their feet, singing along and holding small American flags.

It was clear that there is still a patriotic feel about baseball, "America's pastime."

"This is the day to celebrate," said Dan Outcalt, a salesman from San Diego. "I mean, there is nothing better than a baseball game on the Fourth of July."

The desert-cammie jerseys must have been lucky for the Padres; they beat the Marlins 1-0.