The great American pastime of trying to locate a seat in a crowded ballpark just became ever so slightly more patriotic.
It helps that this particular stretch of bleachers — section 109, row 9, seats 6-17 — has been color-coded within an inch of its life, a red, white and blue speck in the ocean of chairs spreading coast to coast in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Still, veteran Mark Campbell has never had any trouble finding them, a fact that probably has less to do with the vibrant color scheme or even his military training than the fact that he had something to do with putting these particular ducks in this particular row.
Campbell is a member of VFW Post 5825 in Pine Grove Mills, which partnered with local musical performer Bob Timney (aka Sgt. Bob) and the State College Spikes to bring a hearty touch of patriot pastiche to the Centre County stadium.
Last season, Post 5825 provided four tickets per home game to veterans looking to unwind at the ballpark. Now, they have a total of 12 seats at their disposal.
“This year we thought it would be great to expand it,” Campbell said.
He knows firsthand how difficult a homecoming can be for any soldier. Campbell enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1999 as a communications soldier and was commissioned from Penn State’s Army ROTC program in 2003 as a communications officer.
Campbell was in Iraq as the 656 Signal Company Commander and today serves as the 28th ID Deputy G6 as a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“You’re just not the same when you come home. It takes you a little while to reintegrate,” Campbell said.
Over the course of the past four years, Campbell and Post 5825 have donated more than $120,000 to veteran and community causes.
It would be easy enough to calculate the monetary value of the twelve red, white and blue seats — somebody, somewhere has a ticket stub — but those aren’t the statistics that matter.
Years of service, battles won and lost, lives saved — Campbell said that many of the veterans he has known are content to let these go unmentioned, instead opting to enjoy a quiet day at the ballgame.
“It gives them an outlet to just go and enjoy themselves,” Campbell said.
Family and friends can nominate the veteran in their lives for home game tickets by visiting the Spikes’ Facebook page, reaching out on Twitter at @SCSpikes or by contacting Post 5825 at honoraVeteran@VFWPost5825.org.
Joe Putnam, manager of communications for the Spikes, said that the team was honored to work with Timney and Post 5825 to make Veterans Row a reality.
“Baseball is our national pastime, and like so many other American traditions, is rooted in the fact that our military veterans have stood up for our nation and defended its freedoms both here and abroad,” Putnam said.
Veterans Appreciation Sunday is held each week at Medlar Field, where the denizens of section 109, row 9 are invited to stand up and be recognized for the contributions they have made to their country.
Campbell said that the row has been visited by veterans ranging in age and experience — conflicts as diverse as Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam — but there is one seat in particular that remains a constant.
The 13th chair, painted black, deviates from the red, white and blue color scheme of its compatriots, but is no less a memorial. It stands for all of the soldiers that are still out there, the ones who have not yet or will never make it home.
If you go:
What: Military Appreciation Night
When: 6:05 p.m. July 10
Where: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park