With a family of four, Nick Pierce estimates a typical trip to the ballpark could cost $250 when you factor in tickets, parking, concessions and souvenirs.
So the opportunity to bring the family to a Tacoma Rainiers game through a grant from The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program was “awesome,” Pierce said.
“We went to one (ballgame) last year. We try to do something like that every so often, get (the kids) to experience different things,” said Pierce, an active duty Army soldier who brought his wife and two young children to Cheney Stadium for the veteran appreciation event.
OCW, with generous support from Hawthorne Gardening Company, invited 500 veterans and their families to the Aug. 17 game between the Rainiers and the Fresno Grizzlies. In addition to tickets to the game, the families had pregame access to a buffet of hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as time to interact with their fellow veterans and families.
“It’s a wonderful event. It’s the first year we’re hearing about it, and I think it’s great to get all the veterans out here in support of each other, and enjoy a night of sport,” said Carmita “Angel” Nash, a veteran of the Army and Washington National Guard.
Nash attended the event with her father, Marine and Army veteran Richard Lask. They also joined The American Legion at the event.
“I think it’s a good program,” Nash said of the Legion. “I’m not part of a veteran program at this time, and I think this would be a good program to start. My dad and I talked about it together, and he said he would like to join, so we decided to go ahead and join up together today.”
Mike Elliott, the foundation manager for Washington state American Legion Baseball, said it costs about $40 per person for the amenities. “But it’s unlimited buffet, it’s a ballgame, they’ve got some great assets here.”
This is the fourth year for the veteran appreciation event at Cheney Stadium after two years holding an event in Seattle at a Mariners game. This is the first year that the Hawthorne Gardening Company was involved.
“The Mariners were good to us, the people here, Caitlin (Calnan) has just gone out of her way and so has the ownership and staff here to make us really feel welcome,” Elliott said.
Calnan, the Rainiers’ director of group sales and event marketing, said “it’s been a great partnership” with The American Legion.
“We have a bunch of assets here that are at our disposal, and we just kind of tailor the event to that, so whether it’s we want to get people on the field pregame to honor them, we want to have video boards, PA’s, we want to engage with fans or simply we just want to have people out to treat them to a fun night out, it’s our job to customize,” she said.
Some 25 employees from Hawthorne drove two hours to volunteer their time to welcome veterans and their families to the ballpark and hand out complimentary T-shirts and hats.
“We are a company that has deep military roots,” said Brian Herrington, director of government affairs at Hawthorne. “We have veterans throughout the company. We have a deep passion for serving the military and their families. We really appreciate being here with you all tonight.”
Department of Washington Commander Bob Clark threw out the first pitch and about 20 of the veterans came onto the field before the game for recognition. At the pregame get-together, Clark thanked the veterans and their families for coming.
“This is what it’s all about, getting together, having camaraderie, doing things in a community,” Clark said.
Nash agreed. “That’s a big part of it; a lot of veterans out there, they’re always on their own, or they hear about stuff but at events like this they actually get to come to and see and grab information that they might not have on the outside.”