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Dodgers welcome troops for Veterans Day

Alumni host batting practice for Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines

Special to

LOS ANGELES -- Dodger Stadium was buzzing with activity Monday afternoon as the Dodgers hosted about 100 members of the armed forces and their families on Veterans Day.

Former Dodgers Al "The Bull" Ferrara, Roy Gleason and "Sweet" Lou Johnson were on hand to offer helpful insights and encouragement as members of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps took live batting practice on the field, hit in the indoor batting cages and pitched in the Dodgers' bullpen.

The only former Major League player to serve in the Vietnam War, Gleason said he was thrilled to be a part of Monday's special event.

"It's fantastic," said Gleason, a 1967 Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient. "A lot of these guys are happy just to be able to walk out on a Major League field. It's an ultimate dream from when you were a little kid. And for the veterans, to put a smile on their face means the world. For the Dodgers to do this, it's fantastic."

Gleason appeared in eight games with the Dodgers as a September callup in 1963 and doubled in his only at-bat. But he never got the chance to play in the big leagues again and was drafted into service four years later. Gleason says that experience gives him a special bond with anyone in the military.

"I can relate with them," he said. "I can empathize with them and feel for them. I know the sacrifices that they've made, and not only them, but their families."

Ferrara has been a team ambassador for many years, but the former outfielder admitted events like Monday's have a special place in his heart.

"My favorite day is with the vets," he said.

In addition to taking swings and playing catch with Dodgers alumni, those in attendance also had the opportunity to meet Tommy Lasorda.

Lasorda may have been the most popular figure Monday, smiling for a seemingly endless amount of pictures and autographing countless baseballs. Before the first round of batting practice, Lasorda told the crowd: "We love you and we believe in you and we want to say thank you for representing the greatest country in the world."

Austin Laymance is a contributor for

Los Angeles Dodgers