The game of baseball is an expression of America! And it is an expression of America on every baseball field across this great nation and indeed the world. Whether a Little League diamond, a high school field or the hallowed grounds of Chicago’s Wrigley Field or Boston’s beloved Fenway.
This weekend, the high school baseball field in Venice Florida merged with Fenway Park and Major League ballparks across the nation and we all won!
It began Saturday night in the small community of Venice Florida.
You see in this small town there once lived a man who the locals came to know simply as, “The Colonel”. The Colonel’s name was Jack Dundas and he was a pretty special guy for a lot of reasons.
To start with, 68 years ago he was a United States soldier fighting in Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded three times during that battle and three times he returned to the front. He survived, the soldiers prevailed and the world was finally free from the evil that was known as Adolph Hitler.
The Colonel was not the Colonel then but he was on his way. He made his way to Korea where twice more he was felled by bullets. He survived, the soldiers prevailed and today South Korea is a free nation.
You might think he’d had enough but not our Colonel. A decade later he found himself in the jungles of Vietnam where bullets found him twice more. It was shortly after that in 1967 when the Colonel retired to Venice Florida.
An ardent sports fan he became a stalwart supporter of the athletic programs at Venice High School and for the next six decades he rarely missed a practice and almost never missed a Venice High baseball game.
In the fall of 2011, at the age of 93, the Colonel passed away and the Venice High School baseball team dedicated this season to him, but they wanted to do more!
Sunday April 15th marked the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson taking the field as the first black major league player in the modern era. Nearly a decade before the emergence of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jackie waged a lonely battle on Major League baseball diamonds across America.
He received multiple wounds in his many battles most of them invisible, you know the ones I mean, on the inside. He survived, the Dodgers endured and the wall of segregation came tumbling down throughout Major League baseball, a beacon for the rest of America.
Saturday night in Venice Florida, the baseball team honored the memory of the Colonel with Veterans Night and over 40 veterans attended and many of them took the field for a ceremonial first pitch.
Thirty two veterans hurl out the first pitch. (photo courtesy of Megan)
Among them was this man, Colonel Jack Olsen who flew the Flying Fortress on bombing missions in Germany. He was shot down, wounded, taken prisoner, marched 600 miles across the German winter and ultimately escaped. He was decorated 17 times including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is the grandfather of the head coach of Venice’s opponent, Cavalry Christian High School. He now calls Venice his home!
Colonel Jack Olsen salutes the colors.(Photo courtesy of Megan.)
Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays took the field. There were 42s everywhere you turned.
photo David Ryan
Every player throughout Major League baseball donned the number of Jackie Robinson including the habitants of Fenway Park.
The Fenway Park facade, as well as every other big league park, has displayed Jackie’s retired number since 1997. But yesterday every player was #42 on every team in every city! Major League baseball paused yesterday. They paused to remember Jackie and all he endured. They paused to remember how the game and country has been made better by his life. They paused to remember generations ago and in so doing recognized the perpetual link that binds the game and binds the country.
Saturday night in Venice Florida, a group of high school kids and a community paused. They paused to remember and honor an old friend. They paused to remember and honor those who have served and who serve today. They paused to remember how their lives and their country have been made better by that service. They paused to acknowledge today and remember generations ago and in so doing recognized the perpetual link that binds the game and the country.
Good Night Jack, good night Jackie, you are and will always remain with us!
And so it is at this time in Fenway Park history, Aptil 15, 2012.