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Baseball celebrates Fourth at the ballpark

Celebrations include new song from Neil Diamond at Nationals Park

Patriotism was on display throughout Major League Baseball on Thursday, as teams and fans celebrated our nation's 237th birthday on Independence Day.

The National Anthem and "God Bless America" were heard and red, white and blue were seen across the nation -- especially at Major League ballparks, as many celebrated Independence Day watching America's pastime.

All MLB players wore specially designed "Stars & Stripes" caps from New Era as part of MLB's ongoing fundraising and awareness initiatives for the Welcome Back Veterans organization. Giants left-hander Barry Zito also planned to donate $500 for every Major League strikeout to the organization in honor of his father, Joe, who died last month.

Independence Day action began in our nation's capital, where the Nationals hosted the Brewers and legendary signer Neil Diamond debuted his new song, "Freedom Song (They'll Never Take us Down)," after the third inning.

The song draws inspiration from Washington, D.C. and Boston -- where Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" is sung during the eighth inning of every game. Diamond wrote the song following the tragic events at April's Boston Marathon and a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md.

"I, like so many other Americans, felt helpless during the recent attacks in Boston and wanted so much to reach out and not only help those people affected in a direct way but to lift their spirits as well and let them know they were not alone; that the entire American community felt a close kinship with them," Diamond said in a statement. "I was inspired to devote myself to the creation of a new song which expressed my love for this country and its two greatest assets: the spirit of its people and the freedoms it has afforded us all by law."

"Freedom Song" starts off with the lyrics, "Two hundred years and more; And here we are today; With freedom still our guiding light; Defending it with all our might." The chorus talks about how America won't be taken down "though some may try," because the country will "stand our ground," and hold onto freedom that "can't be denied." The song ends with the verses, "We know that they can never take us down; And freedom's why; Together we can raise up freedom's flag; Where eagles fly."

At Target Field, Twins mascot TC sported a beard and star-spangled top hat in the likeness of Uncle Sam, while the team honored active military and veterans before the game.

The Astros also honored uniformed military personnel prior to their game against the Rays, with some honored as they stood along the baselines with both Houston and Tampa players during the pre-game introduction. All fans also were offered a mini American flag as they entered the park.

"Today just speaks baseball, it speaks family and it speaks hot dogs," Astros manager Bo Porter said.

The White Sox honored World War II veterans before their game against the Orioles, while the Royals' Fourth of July celebration started early Thursday morning when fireworks unexpectedly went off at 3 a.m. CT after the team's early-morning victory over the Indians.

While patriotic songs blared throughout MLB and grills and fireworks were lit across the country, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he was caught up in the importance of Independence Day and baseball's role in helping the country celebrate.

"It's a cool day," Hurdle said. "And the whole day, as we continue to get through this day and work toward a day of independence. Baseball, the freedom baseball brings. For me, it's always had a lot of significance. It should never be taken lightly. "

Before Thursday's Mariners-Rangers game in Texas, more than 150 individuals were inducted into the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force presented the colors and the 531st Air Force Band played the national anthem with a flyover of Warbirds from Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison.

Angels reliever Michael Kohn, who tweeted the lyrics to "Proud To Be An American" on Thursday morning, said July 4 has always had special meaning to him as both of his grandfathers served in the millitary -- one in the Army and one in the Navy.

"It's a special day to me to honor not only my grandfathers, but the people that are serving right now for us," Kohn said.

Cash Kruth is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth.