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Derby field visit surprises Air Force members

Nationals Park crowd gives extended ovation
MLB.com @alysonfooter

WASHINGTON -- When 45 members from the Air Force District of Washington headed to Nationals Park on Monday, they thought it was a glorified field trip of sorts -- go to the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, watch a little baseball, eat a little food, have a lot of fun.

Well, it was a watch party, indeed, in the most literal sense. Except they were the ones being watched -- and cheered -- by 40,000-plus fans, who greeted the very surprised Air Force members as they marched onto the field just before the Derby began.

WASHINGTON -- When 45 members from the Air Force District of Washington headed to Nationals Park on Monday, they thought it was a glorified field trip of sorts -- go to the T-Mobile Home Run Derby, watch a little baseball, eat a little food, have a lot of fun.

Well, it was a watch party, indeed, in the most literal sense. Except they were the ones being watched -- and cheered -- by 40,000-plus fans, who greeted the very surprised Air Force members as they marched onto the field just before the Derby began.

The public appearance, and subsequent extended ovation from the crowd, was a shock to all involved. They thought they were being escorted to their seats, which, technically, they were -- just by way of the field, in a very public, and surprising, way.

"It was like a movie," Airman Almeida said. "It was, 'Oh. My. Gosh.' This is what it feels like to be in a movie and have the entire stadium in front of you. It was incredible."

:: Complete Home Run Derby coverage ::

Airman Washington was doing the typical fan thing, taking photos as she walked along the tunnel near the outfield. She thought they were on their way to another location when a representative from Major League Baseball told them they were instead being escorted onto the field.

"Everybody was jumping for joy," Washington said. "When we found out what it was, we said, 'Are you serious?'"

This group is headquartered at Joint Base Andrews, Md., and it also represents 32,000 Air Force District of Washington members that are stationed worldwide.

The members work in a variety of careers, including public affairs, security, human resources, contracting, logistics, legal, financial, civil engineering and Air Force Honor Guard.

Their day-to-day missions support Arlington National Cemetery and America's Airfield, where the president and worldwide dignitaries arrive and depart Washington and locations around the world. They represent a multitude of deployments to locations such as Bosnia, Guam, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

As they walked onto the field, the Nationals' public address announcer said, "We surprise them tonight as we give thanks and ask you to join us as we salute them for their service."

Tweet from @MLB: Let���s make sure our military servicemen and women feel our appreciation. Each post using #HatsOff4Heroes = a $1 donation from @TMobile to @TeamRubicon. #Sponsored pic.twitter.com/Yc1wXXMILe

The crowd responded with the longest ovation of the night.

Airman Washington said she was "nervous" and "shaking."

"I felt like I was about to give a speech," she said.

Waving to a crowd that big was an experience, too.

"I just put my hand out -- I felt like I was at a beauty pageant, just waving at the crowd," Almeida said, laughing. "I was like, 'What am I doing?'"

During the anthem, when Washington watched the flyover, she decided this was "the highlight of 2018."

Almeida echoed a similar sentiment.

"This was the best experience I've had all summer," she said. "It was amazing, a big surprise."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.