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Air Force claims Armed Services Classic crown

MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- The final score won't matter. The close plays, missed chances and unfortunate strikeouts have already faded from memory. The 30 U.S. service members, their coaches, family and friends got to see their dreams from tee-ball and slow-pitch softball finally lived out at Nationals Park Friday.

The inaugural All-Star Armed Services Classic presented by T-Mobile ended in a 9-2 win for the Air Force over the Army -- a total flip-flop from the walk-off Air Force win in the round robin tournament in June. While the winning pilots certainly cherished the moment and glory, the embraces in the handshake line solidified the comradery built in the months-long grind to the moment.

WASHINGTON -- The final score won't matter. The close plays, missed chances and unfortunate strikeouts have already faded from memory. The 30 U.S. service members, their coaches, family and friends got to see their dreams from tee-ball and slow-pitch softball finally lived out at Nationals Park Friday.

The inaugural All-Star Armed Services Classic presented by T-Mobile ended in a 9-2 win for the Air Force over the Army -- a total flip-flop from the walk-off Air Force win in the round robin tournament in June. While the winning pilots certainly cherished the moment and glory, the embraces in the handshake line solidified the comradery built in the months-long grind to the moment.

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"This has been a dream come true to everybody," Air Force coach Joseph Kasper said. "To be able to represent the Air Force, and then be able to win, it's something that everybody will take with them for the rest of their lives."

The Air Force and Army won the right to play for the newly-minted trophy crowned by an eagle figurine in the first installment of the tournament. On June 2-3, the five branches of the military competed in a round robin tournament, with the Air Force and Army each compiling 3-1 records to advance.

"We're fighting with each other at the end of the day, so we still have to be friends," said Russ Newbern, who won the postgame All-Star Armed Services Home Run Challenge presented by T-Mobile.

Russ Newbern wins All-Star Armed Services Home Run Challenge

There was also a family element to the game, with Army second baseman David Perez making a diving play to rob a hit from his wife, Air Force player Tylar Perez.

Video: Armed Services Classic: Husband's FC robs wife of hit

Save for Air Force left fielder Micah Kellogg -- who played three years of Minor League Baseball before enlisting -- no member of the winning squad had ever stepped on a big league diamond. It was a unique opportunity to play on the same field that will host Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard.

"Touching this dirt and this grass and this atmosphere is something that is truly amazing," Kasper said. "If I never experience it again, I'm OK with that."

Video: Armed Services Classic: Air Force coach on team win

It all came after a meaningful presentation of the nation's colors in the nation's capital. The U.S. Army Brass Quartet's rendition of the national anthem was joined by the Armed Forces Color Guard -- both joining their fellow branch-mates on the field.

Participating in this year's All-Star festivities, Ed Bearss, 95, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bearss served in the Marine Corps in World War II, and he went on to add additional service to his country as the chief historian of the National Park Service from 1981-94. He was also at the first MLB All-Star Game in '33 in Chicago.

"Not often we get to play on a Major League field," said Jacob Hensal of the Army, who will take swings in Monday's T-Mobile Home Run Derby after taking second in Friday's postgame All-Star Armed Services Home Run Challenge presented by T-Mobile. "It was great to represent the Army."

Video: Newbern, Hensal discuss Armed Services Home Run Derby

It's not clear if the event -- which was free to the public and drew a sizable crowd -- will continue into next year's festivities in Cleveland, though there may be another edition at Nationals Park next year, Kasper said.

Regardless of what happens, Kasper and his squad are already thinking title defense.

"Even if we never do this again and it's a one-and-done, we can always say we were the first," Kasper said. "… I would love to be able to defend a title. That would be the greatest thing."

Zachary Silver is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.