It is a relationship the Padres treasure as much as any other, and every spring it is placed front and center in what is now a 16-year tradition in San Diego.
Military Opening Day is always one of the first dates marked on the calendar as the Padres plan out their promotional lineup for each season. The only Major League Baseball team to hold a dedicated opening day for the armed services, the Padres support of the military is at the forefront of their year-round efforts in the community. Using PETCO Park all year to help in these efforts is a no-brainer, and each season it kicks off with this very special day.
"We take our relationship with the military very seriously and are proud to honor them every chance we get," says Padres Senior Vice President of Brand Development Laura Broderick.
"Being located in a city with such a large military community, we see first-hand the sacrifices that are made not only by military personnel, but by their families. It is our responsibility to recognize these efforts and thank them for all they do for our country."
It takes more than adding a touch of military flare to the pregame ceremony to truly recognize and thank service men and women for their sacrifice. That's why each season, the Padres turn this day into a military extravaganza, complete with a band, a flyover, hundreds of Marine recruits and, of course, a parachute team.
2011 Military Opening Day was no exception. Held right in the middle of the season's first homestand (April 10), the festivities began with the U.S. Navy's parachute team, the "Leap Frogs," who dropped into the ballpark from the sky above. Based in San Diego, the jump was their first performance in their home city this year.
"As SEALs, we're really America's away team," said Chief Warrant Officer (SEAL) Keith Pritchett, a member of the Leap Frogs. "It's always great to be able to perform at home and to be able to show San Diegans how much we appreciate their support."
As part of a pregame ceremony, the Padres honored local military personnel, as they do every year, for their professional performance and contributions to the community. Recognized this year were 12 award recipients from various San Diego area commands. The honorees represented the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
The Padres were privileged to be joined by the Edwards Air Force Base Honor Guard, who presented the nation's colors for the National Anthem, performed by the Marine Band San Diego and accompanied by a flyover by two MH-60-T Jayhawk Helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego.
It was then time for the "Team of the Military" to take the field. Donning their new camouflage jerseys, modeled after the digital camouflage patterns currently worn by the U.S. Marines, the Padres were joined on field by drill instructors from Golf Company, Second Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Taking in all the action of Military Opening Day, and a familiar sight for Sunday afternoon regulars at PETCO Park, were 400 recruits from Marine Corps Recruit Depot. As has become customary at Military Sunday's, the recruits were recognized to the tune of the Marine Hymn in the fourth inning.
The traditional excitement of Military Opening Day was enhanced in 2011 with the debut of "Aaron's Aces," a program established by Padres starting pitcher and San Diego native Aaron Harang. Every Sunday home game, Harang hosts 30 guests from the San Diego Armed Services YMCA to a behind-the-scenes day at PETCO Park. The experience includes a customized t-shirt and goodie bag, a private meet-and-greet in the Padres bullpen and complimentary tickets courtesy of the Padres and the MLB Commissioner's Community Initiative program.
As if that wasn't enough, the Padres topped off the special afternoon with a 7-2 victory over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. San Diego's triumph was powered by Ryan Ludwick, Cameron Maybin and Nick Hundley home runs.
The winning pitcher? Aaron Harang, of course.