"I'm no hero. Heroes don't come back. Survivors return home. Heroes never come home. If anyone thinks I'm a hero, I'm not."
-- Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller
Bob Feller missed most of four seasons while serving in the United States military. He enlisted in the Navy one day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
Feller, who won 266 games during his 18 big league seasons, never wanted to be recognized for his service. On Memorial Day, however, we remember and appreciate those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Before Monday's games, Major League clubs paid tribute to those individuals who have given Memorial Day its meaning.
"My only thought of Memorial Day is to give thanks to everyone who gave the ultimate sacrifice, but also gave their time -- years of their life to give the freedom we have here," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, whose father served in World War II. "I thank them every day for it."
There was a moment of silence before Monday's series opener between the Red Sox and Tigers at Fenway Park in Boston. With the Green Monster covered by a giant American flag, the U.S. Coast Guard Brass Quintet performed the national anthem. Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky, 92, who missed three seasons to serve in World War II, was also honored.
"It's one of those things where you want to thank every single one of them because you know they're giving their lives to protect our country," Boston shortstop Mike Aviles said. "I know personally, I couldn't do it. You know what? They have my utmost respect and support. They are unbelievable people."
Prior to the Mets' game against the Phillies at Citi Field, NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba delivered a ceremonial first pitch via satellite from the International Space Station. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Tim Alexander threw out another first pitch on the field. Four U.S. Navy F-18E Super Hornets from Virginia Beach, Va., also did a flyover.
Private First Class Aaron Estes, who was injured in Afghanistan, received a standing ovation when he threw out the first pitch at Tropicana Field before the Rays' game against the White Sox. Rays designated hitter Luke Scott wore a camouflage bandana in the clubhouse before the game.
"I support the military greatly," Scott said. "I'm really appreciative of what they've done for us throughout the years and what they're continuing to do. I'm a big fan of Memorial Day. It's a day to pay our respects, to honor them."
In Atlanta, the Braves displayed a video message from Master Sergeant David Sims on the Turner Field scoreboard. Sims then appeared on the field and surprised his wife and children near the first-base coaching box.
"I almost fainted when he came out; I almost had a heart attack," said Sims' 11-year-old son, Roman. "I was looking around like, 'What's going on?'"
Sims has spent 14 years in the Air Force. He called his wife his hero for taking care of their family for the past six months while he was stationed in Afghanistan.
"Being Memorial Day," Sims said, "being the day we remember those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, it's especially wonderful for us because we enjoy this privilege and this freedom because that price has been paid by other patriots that have gone before us."
The U.S. Marine Corps presented the colors before the Marlins and Nationals squared off at Marlins Park. A short video tribute carrying the theme "One nation. One moment," played on the scoreboard before the first pitch.
Fans at Target Field in Minnesota were greeted at the gates by actors wearing World War II-period uniforms from the movie "Memorial Day." Actor Reed Sigmund sang the national anthem as a P-51 Mustang and a P-38 Lightning flew over the crowd.
Corporal Nick Kimmel, a 21-year-old triple amputee who had multiple scholarship offers to play baseball but instead joined the Marines, threw out the first pitch in San Francisco. He lost both of his legs and an arm when he stepped on an explosive device in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy grew up in a military family, as he was born in France, where his father was stationed as a U.S. Army officer.
"Growing up on a base, it's obviously got deeper meaning," Bochy said. "I'll be thinking about my father, who is no longer living, and all those who have served and fallen while protecting our country."
The Dodger Stadium tribute began with a performance of Yankee Doodle on the organ and was followed by honoring the Veteran of the Game, Army Sgt. Luis Garcia. Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. DeJon Fruga, of the March Air Reserve Base, sang "God Bless America."
Several other veterans were honored, and after a moment of silence, all veterans in attendance at Dodger Stadium were asked to stand. That prompted chants of "thank you" from the fans.
All 30 Major League teams wore the newest edition of MLB Stars & Stripes caps, sported on Memorial Day and Independence Day each year. Net proceeds from the sale of these special caps are donated to Welcome Back Veterans, a program that addresses the needs of returning American veterans and their families. Each club also participated in a nationwide moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time.
"It's a very important day, obviously for our country, but also for me," Indians outfielder Johnny Damon said. "My dad was a veteran, so this day is very special to me, and I know it is for my father, who raised me in that military household."
Before the Rangers' game, the 531st Air Force Band Brass Quintet played the national anthem, while the United States Marines Honor Guard presented the colors.
"Memorial Day is very special for any person in this country," said Michael Young. "We get to do something that seems relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things. To be able to do it and give some entertainment and enjoy it because of what other people have sacrificed for us is a very humbling thing."