For the past two years, Major League Baseball has honored two military-based charities on Memorial Day in an effort to meaningfully acknowledge what the holiday stands for. The two selected organizations -- the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Folds of Honor Foundation -- focus on families who have lost loved ones while serving in the military.
The partnership has been rewarding on both ends. MLB found an opening to tie its programming to organizations that better fit with the meaning of Memorial Day weekend, and the charities it targeted have been able to expand their growing networks to reach more families who have suffered immeasurable loss.
"The opportunity to celebrate the life and service of a fallen military hero with their family or their loved one's favorite team in their hometown is incredible," said Diana Hosford, TAPS' vice president of sports and entertainment. "It's so meaningful."
TAPS, which provides comfort, care and resources to those grieving the death of a military loved one, formed a sports program in 2013, and since then has worked with several individual Major League teams, including the Nationals, who are based in the nation's capital.
TAPS families had a presence at All-Star festivities, the World Series and the London Series, and they were the first to march during the Nationals' World Series parade in 2019.
Through TAPS, families of fallen service members have been able to attend games and watch video tributes of their loved ones on the jumbotron. Once a month, for example, the Nats enact a third-inning "Tip of the Cap," through which fans are given the opportunity to honor a fallen soldier and his family, in unison, throughout the stadium.
"It's been incredible for the families," Hosford said. "So often, families just want their loved ones to be remembered. Thousands of fans are taking a moment to hear your loved one's name, and see their face and remember their life and service. That's what people want. They just want their loved one to be remembered."
With no baseball being played during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, game tickets and in-stadium acknowledgements are not possible right now. But MLB's support of the military and its programs honoring veterans has not stopped. Continuing the funding efforts allows organizations such as TAPS and Folds of Honor, a foundation that provides educational scholarships to family members of fallen and disabled service members, to carry on with their support of military families.
Individual teams are implementing their own programs, too. The Orioles are holding an online auction to support TAPS that runs from May 25-31, and they are also partaking in a virtual volunteer opportunity for employees to create care packages and compose handwritten notes to TAPS families.
The Dodgers partnered with TAPS to create a Fallen Heroes Lights display, in honor of Memorial Day. Each individual light, illuminated on Sunday at 8:30 PT, will honor the memory of a military member that served our country. The thousands of red, white and blue lights in the Dodger Stadium outfield will also represent the families of these fallen heroes that are supported by TAPS in California.
"We are so grateful to Major League Baseball and the clubs across the country for honoring those who have served and sacrificed, and remembering the loved ones they have left behind," said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS.
Traditionally around Memorial Day, in more normal times, TAPS would gather around 2,000 family members, military mentors and volunteers in Washington for a weekend of connection, grief work, and celebration of life and service. Kids attend "Good Grief Camp," where they learn coping skills through fun activities in a supportive environment.
And if Memorial Day falls during a Nationals homestand, around 400 people attend a game, compliments of the team.
This year, TAPS is hosting a virtual seminar, with the intent to still bring people together, even in this time of physical distancing. Close to 1,800 people have registered.
"We'll be able to be connected, even though we won't be able to physically be together," Hosford said. "We'll still feel connected to one another."
Those connections will someday include ballpark experiences again. Though there is no timetable for when fans will be a part of the gameday experience, there will come a time when things may go back to the way they used to be. The absence of normalcy in recent times serves as a gentle reminder of baseball's impact, including its community outreach efforts.
"Ballparks all over the country have welcomed TAPS families and honored their heroes," Hosford said. "It's incredible. It's making new memories. We can't take the pain away. But what we can do is create new and joyful memories, and to do it through sports has been extraordinary."