If the Padres could officially make themselves the Team of the United States Military, they would. We sat down with Tom, Mia, and J.J. to discuss the team's 21-year history of unprecedented commitment to our nation's uniformed pros.
Mia Spano gets chills when she hears the Marine Corps Hymn. Nearly 400 graduates from Marine Corps Recruit Depot, in uniform for the first time in public, rise from their seats in the right field stands and belt out "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli ... " to the adoration of a stadium full of proud American baseball fans.
It doesn't get much more patriotic than that.
But her favorite moment at the park is the re-enlistment ceremony she facilitates at first base coach's box. After batting practice and before the game starts, a service member who has decided to continue to serve will reaffirm his or her oath to the United States Constitution, with true faith and allegiance to the same. The moment isn't filmed for display on the big screen, and no one has a microphone. But there's always a group of fans in the seats behind the home dugout who watch with admiration and stand and applaud when the re-enlistment is complete. It's a dignified, honorable moment that's only grown in popularity as the Padres further establish their reputation as Major League Baseball's team of the military.
"The freedoms we enjoy in this country are not possible without the selfless service of all of the members of our armed forces and their families. This is our opportunity to give back." – RADM James Quinn USN (Ret)
"I love having the opportunity to show our fans that these individuals are still training, still deploying and still fighting while we go about our daily lives," Mia said. "This is the story we want to tell."
Mia manages military affairs for the Padres, alongside team owner Tom Seidler, and retired Military Affairs Advisor, J.J. Quinn. But it's not just this trio responsible for maintaining and promoting the team's commitment to the military. Support for the Military is baked into just about everything the team does, because as J.J. knows from experience, " The freedoms we enjoy in this country are not possible without the selfless service of all of the members of our armed forces and their families. This is our opportunity to give back to the community that has done so much for us."
And give back the team does: The Padres were the first and remain the largest military outreach program in Major League Baseball, and arguably in all professional sports. It was founded over twenty years ago by Navy CAPT Jack Ensch, a Vietnam War Veteran and F-4 Phantom Naval Flight Officer credited with two aerial kills and who spent over 200 days in captivity as a prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton."
Between the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, there over 100,000 active duty military personnel in the greater San Diego area. Adding dependents bumps the number to over 300,000. But when you include the hundreds of thousands of veterans, reserves, retired and civil service personnel with dependents who call San Diego home, the total number is close to 850,000.
The team's goal is to not only honor and recognize, but also to make this unique community that comprises 30% of the population in San Diego County even more visible than it already is. During the regular season, every Sunday home game is Military Sunday. The players don authentic military camouflage jerseys, which changes depending on which service branch is being honored that day. All military-affiliated fans—active duty, veteran, retired, reserve, civil service and their families get 50% off any available Sunday ticket, and 25% off any weekday or Saturday ticket, if you didn't already get one of the thousands of complimentary tickets the team sends to Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard units regularly throughout the season. When you consider the size of the region's military community, the commitment is staggering.
Center fielder Travis Jankowski embraces his brother, Navy LT Tyler Jankowski.
The team also issues $20,000 worth of educational scholarships to four military-affiliated students every year, recognizing each recipient at a home plate ceremony on Military Family Day.
Tom, Mia and J.J. are gearing up for Military Opening Day, the season's first Sunday home game on April 9th. Just like last year, they've invited 1,000 local service members and their families to attend the game free of charge. A team of US Navy SEALs known as the “Leapfrogs” will parachute into the stadium, a formation of US Navy aircraft will perform a flyover, and an honor guard will bear the 50 state flags onto the field during a pre-game ceremony.
Just like last year, they've invited 5,000 service members and their families to attend the game. For free.
Aside from the sheer scale of the display at the park, Padres owner Tom Seidler says it goes beyond simple recognition. "Getting people more aware of our military and what they do for us is what it's all about," he said. "If the result of what we do makes an employer in the stands think about hiring a veteran, then that's a positive thing." He references the rocky transition many veterans face when exiting the military, and cites the team's involvement with Operation REBOOT, an organization and arm of the National Veterans Transition Services aiming to provide opportunities for service members leaving active duty.
J.J., a Naval Aviator who ended his 30-year career at the rank of Rear Admiral, loves having the opportunity to give back to the community which shaped such a huge part of his life. "Baseball players go through their day to day routine being held in admiration by fans they do not know. It is always unique for me to watch player’s reactions when I facilitate visits with active duty troops throughout the region. "I have watched sports stars fall totally silent, humbled at listening to an active duty Navy Seal describe the heroic actions of their fallen comrades whose photos are displayed in the corridors of their spaces at Naval Base Coronado."
"The Padres may grind through a season," Tom said. "But these guys are grinding through service to the country. We're the ones who are in awe of them."
The genuine measure of support is apparent in every action the team takes—It's as easy to see as the warships in the harbor just down the road, and as pronounced as the roar of F-18 engines over at MCAS Miramar. The Padres take pride in being the first MLB team with a program of its kind, and they consider supporting the nation's military to be just as important as the nation's pastime.
At US Army and Army National Guard appreciation Day, the team honored Joe Reilly, a World War II veteran who fought with the 101st Screaming Eagles.
Deployed Marines in Afghanistan giving shout-outs to their families at home plate.
Infielder Will Myers visits the bridge of the USS Theodoore Roosevelt after the unveiling ceremony of the team's new digi-cam jerseys.
Infielder Brett Wallace greets a sailor at third base.
A Coast Guardsman throws out the first pitch.
Graduates from Marine Corps Recruit Depot in right field.
The Pad Squad welcomes home the crew of the amphibious assault ship USS Essex.
In August of 2016, the Padres honored and thanked the service members of Wounded Warrior Battalion West.