LOS ANGELES -- It happens in the middle of the second inning of every home game, when third baseman Justin Turner makes his way to the far end of the dugout to present a baseball to an active or former military member being honored that day at Dodger Stadium.Sometimes, other
LOS ANGELES -- It happens in the middle of the second inning of every home game, when third baseman Justin Turner makes his way to the far end of the dugout to present a baseball to an active or former military member being honored that day at Dodger Stadium.
Sometimes, other players join with a handshake or a piece of memorabilia of their own, but Turner is always there, his spot in the batting order having come and gone one inning earlier, leaving him with precious time during a game to give thanks.
Honoring just one member of the military a game, though, leaves a mere 81 times when Turner can publicly show his appreciation, so a Veterans Day event at Dodger Stadium on Monday gave him another chance.
Just 15 days after the Dodgers' heartbreak in the form of a World Series defeat against the Red Sox, Turner hosted more than 400 military veterans at Dodger Stadium. He told the group just what their sacrifice means to him and the organization and took an individual photograph with each and every person in attendance.
Afterward, military members and their families took turns taking batting practice and tracking fly balls on the outfield grass.
"Being Veterans Day, Veterans Weekend, having a chance to give a little bit of time to say thank you and spend time with the men and women that sacrifice their life, their family, their time to go defend our country is a no-brainer for me," said Turner, who also visited fire evacuation centers in the Los Angeles area last week. "I would have not been anywhere else.
"On top of the fact that one of the main beneficiaries of the Justin Turner Foundation are homeless veterans at the Dream Center, and we had a chance to bring out some of those individuals today to take part."
Former U.S Army specialist Jason Ortega of Mission Hills took advantage of his chance to walk the field at Dodger Stadium and play catch in left field with his 8-year-old son, Elijah.
"For me, my guy is Justin Turner, because every time I see him, I'm always watching him and he's always saluting the vets and he's always into the vets," Ortega said. "So that's my favorite player right there. He is a good teammate, and it reminds me of all the guys I was with [in the Army]. It was all about teamwork."
Active U.S. Navy hospital corpsman senior chief Jason Fechner, from Murrieta, also appreciates Turner, but his 8-year-old son, Jaysen, showed as much appreciation as anybody Monday, sporting a fake Turner beard and mustache. Jaysen even dressed as Turner for Halloween this year.
"[The Dodgers] remind us that there are people who still support, who encourage us to continue to serve," Fechner said. "Knowing that we come here and are thanked is a blessing is that we are fortunate to have."
For Turner, Monday's gathering showed that support is reciprocated. The Dodgers are coming off their second consecutive World Series defeat, with the disappointment fresh. But the team's fans were there, ready to show appreciation so quickly.
"Looking back on the World Series, the one that probably hurt the most was Game 4," Turner said about the Dodgers relinquishing a late 4-0 lead and losing 9-6. "That one was more devastating after the game than actually losing Game 5, for me."
Turner said he already has started his workout program in advance of the 2019 season with the hopes of another World Series run. And he is waiting to see what next year's roster will look like, knowing that changes are inevitable.
Turner said he is already trying to come to terms with the loss of third-base/infield coach Chris Woodward, who left to become the Rangers' manager. Then there was the departure of hitting coach Turner Ward, who left to become the Reds' hitting coach, and the exit of general manager Farhan Zaidi, who is now the Giants' president of baseball operations.
Turner expressed appreciation to all three and wished them well … to a certain extent.
"I wish [Zaidi] all the luck up there," Turner said. "Not too much luck. Hopefully, he can finish in second [place] for a long time."
Doug Padilla is a contributor to MLB.com.