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MLB honors military in style on Memorial Day

Clubs tip their caps to veterans with moment of reflection, special uniforms

All 30 teams took the field on Monday to honor and remember the men and women who have served in the nation's military on Memorial Day.

On the day that marks the unofficial start of summer, the signature game of the season paid tribute to the armed forces with a league-wide show of support. All 30 teams paused at 3 p.m. ET for a moment of reflection, and each Major League club donned special digital-camouflage jerseys and caps licensed by the U.S. Marine Corps, raising awareness and funds for Welcome Back Veterans. MLB has committed $23 million to Welcome Back Veterans since 2008.

"I think it's tremendous," said Astros manager Bo Porter, whose club recognized veterans from every conflict since World War II on the field. "When you think about our country and all the things we've been through, to be able to have a day where the entire league honors the veterans and what it is our country stands for, it's great for baseball and great for our country."

Veteran Pat Duncan, 90, threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Houston after being recognized for surviving the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor while serving in the Navy. He received eight commendations and medals over his career.

The occasion was particularly meaningful to Houston outfielder Robbie Grossman, whose father, Rob, spent 11 years in the Navy and was an aviator in the first Gulf War. Rob Grossman was a Seahawk pilot who flew helicopters off the back of frigates, cruisers and destroyers.

"It's a tribute to the people who served this country and fought for our freedoms and everything we have and take for granted," Robbie Grossman said. "It means a lot to me."

At Dodger Stadium, 50 Wounded Warriors entered from center field after Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greeted the ballpark crowd with a scoreboard message from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Dr. Buzz Aldrin, who set foot on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, threw the ceremonial first pitch. A graduate of West Point and a MIT doctorate, Aldrin was also a fighter pilot in the Korean War, with 66 combat missions.

"Memorial Day is very important to me, because I'm a military person," Aldrin said. "I had some very close friends who were POWs. I think veterans should be very proud."

Before the afternoon game in Milwaukee, more than 40 active members of the military got the festivities started with a "mass first pitch."

Several thousand tickets were provided by the Brewers to USO-Wisconsin and Veterans Administration groups so active and retired members of the military could enjoy the game with their families. In addition, proceeds from Monday's Brewers Community Foundation 50/50 raffle will be donated to the USO-Wisconsin.

"Major League Baseball considers it both a privilege and a responsibility to honor and assist our troops in any way we can," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "We are proud to support this initiative, and we ask our fans to join us on Memorial Day and beyond in this effort to raise awareness and funds for this important cause."

In Detroit, the Tigers donated 1,500 tickets to members and veterans of the armed forces.

Prior to the afternoon game between the Rays and Marlins at Tropicana Field, the AVAST Amputee Color Guard, the only amputee color guard in the U.S., presented the flag, which will be shipped to New York to represent the Rays at the 2013 All-Star Game as a part of the Tribute for Heroes Initiative.

Master Sgt. Harry Bounds performed the national anthem, and Paul F. Utter and his service dog, Ellie, threw out the first pitch, representing Southeastern Guide Dogs Paws for Patriots.

In the visitors' clubhouse at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oakland's Josh Donaldson donned camouflage cargo shorts prior to the game before slipping into his special-edition uniform for the ballgame. Reliever Jerry Blevins was one of the many who donned his camouflage A's cap as soon as he saw it hanging in his locker.

"It's a national day," Blevins said. "This is about letting people gather today and as a society, as a people, taking the time to appreciate it all. As much as baseball is America's pastime, what they do is much more important."

Senior Airman Ben Akers proposed to his girlfriend, Kirsten Opperman, before the first pitch in Kansas City, where the first 20,000 fans received miniature American flags.

"The hardest part was keeping it from her," said Akers, who could be deployed next April. "She has always been there for me through everything, training, whatever it was, she was always there, and it was about time to tie the knot."

Prior to the Interleague game between the Cubs and White Sox in Chicago, Challenger, the bald eagle, flew across the pitcher's mound during the national anthem, and five members of the armed forces threw a ceremonial first pitch.

"It's one of the bigger holidays we have in the country," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who has three tattoos to honor his father, George, who was a Marine. "To take a day and remember what people sacrificed for the things we get to do out here. It is a really special day. Besides Christmas, I think it's the biggest holiday."

Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato.