By Dan Smaczny, National Museum of the American Sailor Contract Curator
For years the students at Merizo Martyrs School played baseball on a raggedy field in the village of Merizo, Guam. That changed when the NAVFAC Marianas Self-Help Seabees of U.S. Naval Base Guam volunteered their time to refurbish the George Leonard Charfauros Baseball Field in May 2016. The Seabees showed the children what their “Can-Do” work ethic could do.
The United States Navy has teamed up with baseball to spread goodwill for nearly 150 years. In the 1870s Navy teams played against local teams in Japan. Around the turn of the twentieth century America’s global presence was expanding. The Navy helped to bring knowledge of America to the world and baseball led the way.
From December 1907 to February 1909, the Great White Fleet, state-of-the-art ships painted white, cruised around the world. Each battleship formed a baseball team. The teams competed throughout the cruise, including games in Australia and Mexico, ending with a “world series” in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka).
The Navy has used baseball to extend public awareness on the homefront for more than one hundred years. The drill squad from U.S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes captivated the fans as the Chicago Cubs triumphed in their April 24, 1918 home opener at Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field) over the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-0. Prospective recruits could then take the train up to Great Lakes, about thirty miles North of Chicago, after being impressed by the Sailors from the Station.
Baseball as the Navy’s ambassador was on the world’s stage in 1918 at the U.S. Army-Navy championship game played on the 4th of July at Stamford Bridge in London, England. The game attracted a huge turnout featuring King George V and Winston Churchill.
By the 1930s the Navy brought baseball to many countries including China, Nicaragua, Holland, and Brazil. And on April 22, 1948 the Navy played baseball in Ireland for the first time after more than twenty years. 22,000 people attended a game between the USS Fresno (CL 121) and a team made from the USS Johnston (DD 821) and the USS William R. Rush (DD 714) at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland.
After World War II, the Navy started to replace baseball with softball as a recreational activity. The Navy would still attend professional games for community outreach and to promote recruitment by singing the National Anthem, throwing out first pitches, and having enlistment ceremonies before games.
Sailors are often in attendance at military appreciation nights such as when Quarter Master 1st Class Johnnie Hong appeared and signed autographs at the Everett Aqua Sox Military Appreciation Night at Memorial Stadium on August 19, 2006.
The U.S. Navy participates in the Pacific Partnership, a five-month humanitarian assistance initiative that visits places like Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Equipment Operator Constructionman Kevin Mitchell Juirre raised spirits when he played in a softball game at the 2011 Pacific Partnership 4th of July celebration in Pohnpei, Micronesia.
Baseball’s role as an ambassador for the Navy harkened back to its 1870s beginnings in a softball game in Shimoda, Japan in May 2012. The crew of the USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and locals from Shimoda competed in a friendly battle. The Navy’s partnership with baseball continues to promote the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment on ball fields from Mexico to Micronesia.
Want to learn more about baseball and the U.S. Navy? Visit these websites:
July 4, 1918, U.S. Army vs. U.S. Navy baseball game https://www.mlb.com/cut4/king-george-v-watched-american-baseball-in-1918/c-275791064
BEECAM: Play Ball! Seabees Refurbish Guam Baseball Field http://seabeemagazine.navylive.dodlive.mil/2016/05/19/beecam-play-ball-seabees-refurbish-guam-baseball-field/
Puget Sound Navy Museum’s online baseball exhibit http://www.pugetsoundnavymuseum.org/when-baseball-went-to-war-2/
Below are more baseball articles on NMAS’ Sailor’s Attic Blog: