On a Fourth of July holiday marked by a dearth of public observances, the Martinsville Mustangs stepped up to the plate to provide the community with an Independence Day celebration worthy of the sport best-known as America’s favorite pastime.
The organization opened its Fourth of July game against the Tri-City Chili Peppers with a tribute to local World War II veterans, who took the field before the game.
The first pitch was thrown by U.S. Navy veteran Martin Harris, who served in New Guinea and the South Pacific during the war. He was joined on the field by Leonard Hairston, who served in the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean Sea and is set to turn 100-years old next month, and by John McCain, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in England, France, Belgium, and Germany during the war.
The game ball was flown in via helicopter, delivered by crew members from AirLife Virginia, based at the Blue Ridge Regional Airport. The low hum of its rotors grew louder and louder as the helicopter approached. Kids and adults alike could be seen pointing and smiling as it made its final descent, landing in the outfield.
The AirLife crew delivered the game balls, taking time to shake hands and speak to each of the veterans seated just behind the pitcher’s mound, thanking them for their service.
Once the helicopter had once again taken to the sky, Harris stepped up to the mound and let fly a low fastball, caught by Mustang J.T. Inskeep over home plate, to kick off the game.
Mustangs President Jason Davis said the organization wanted to provide some form of celebration for the community on the holiday.
“It all comes back to being part of the community,” he said. “Isn’t baseball the great American pastime? We’re proud to be part of that and we’re fortunate to be able to serve our community in that capacity.”
He noted that the team suited up in its salute to service uniforms, which were red, white, and blue, for the evening’s game.
Davis credited all of the Mustangs’ sponsors, whose names and logos were emblazoned along the back wall of the field, “but
tonight is (radio station) B-99.9’s night,” he said. “B-99 has been a great sponsor, it’s a great partnership to have.
Dan the Man himself is our game day announcer. They do a fantastic job for us.”
Ahead of the game, Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson was seated at a table, slicing watermelon. She and Council Member Danny Turner partnered to provide the cool, sweet treat to game-goers free of charge to add to the festive atmosphere of the Fourth.
“There really wasn’t anything going on uptown, so Danny came up with the idea,” Lawson said. She was more than happy to help.
Turner said the watermelon was donated by Stanley Fain of All Seasons Produce in Patrick Springs.
Following the game, which resulted in a loss for the home team, the Mustangs hosted a concert with musician Tate Tuck, and Independence Day revelers continued celebrating.
Before the music, before the first run of the game, even before Harris’ first pitch, the crowds streamed into Hooker Field, wearing red, white, and blue shirts and hats and shoes and even socks, some carrying American flags, all with smiles on their faces, looking forward to the evening ahead. Those smiles, the festive atmosphere, the excitement in the air at Hooker Field all lent credence to Davis’ earlier claim:
“There’s nothing better than baseball on the Fourth of July.”