Subdued opening day honors troops - East Valley Tribune: News

Subdued opening day honors troops

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Posted: Monday, March 31, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 12:58 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

On the top of the sign was a photo of three Arizona Diamondbacks. On the bottom was a photo of one dead Marine.

“These are men doing their job playing a game,” the sign said of the Diamondbacks.

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“These are heroes,” the sign said of Lance Cpl. Mike Williams of Phoenix, who was killed March 23 in Iraq. “Cheer your Diamondbacks and pray for your heroes.”

Randy Walters of Chandler took the day off from work to attend opening day at Bank One Ballpark in downtown Phoenix. But before entering to watch the Diamondbacks and rival Los Angeles Dodgers, Walters displayed his sign in the stadium plaza.

“I’m not making a big statement, just trying to raise consciousness,” Walters said. “So far, it’s been 100 percent favorable — lots of thumbs up and people nodding their head.”

On the northeast corner of Jefferson and Fifth streets, a vendor had three American flags surrounding his water stand.

“People acknowledge them and like them,” said Mondo DePanicis, who put the flags up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “They’re very nice, a little patriotic.”

The reality of war put major league baseball’s annual celebration into perspective for many fans. At the same time, though, the atmosphere was festive.

Fans crowded restaurant patios to have lunch or a beer before the game. Vendors selling water, peanuts and T-shirts lined Jackson Street.

Kevin Ronan and his girlfriend, Jessica Darling, missed their last class at Mesa's Westwood High School to see the start of the game. Earlier this school year, the seniors left early to watch an afternoon playoff game.

“A few of my friends were jealous,” said Ronan, whose family has season tickets.

Dorothy Wagstaff of Chandler was happy her daughter, Angela, could celebrate her eighth birthday at a Diamondbacks game.

Wagstaff said the fact that she home-schools her children — Angela and Andrew, 11 — made it easier to attend the afternoon game.

“We love baseball, and we’re big Diamondbacks fans,” Wagstaff said.

Dan and Barb Mei of Ahwatukee Foothills, who share season tickets, were happy to be back at Bank One Ballpark.

“It’s always a fun part of the year,” Dan Mei said. “There’s lots of energy, you see the new team and who’s around you in your new seats.”

“You can touch base with people you may not have seen since last season,” Barb Mei said.

Before the first pitch, however, the sold-out crowd turned its attention to the war in Iraq. Fans cheered as children of military personnel deployed in the Middle East took the field with the Diamondbacks. The pre-game tribute to the armed forces included a flyover from Luke Air Force Base and the unfurling of a large American flag in center field.

The Meis supported starting the game with a tribute to the U.S. troops.

“It brings people’s attention to what the world is really about. This is a game,” Dan Mei said.

The D-Backs lost 8-0.

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