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by John Konrad (gCaptain) It is often said that baseball is the great American pastime, a sport woven into the very fabric of the nation’s soul. Tomorrow, in the hometown of the New York Yankees – the team with the most MLB Hall of Fame inductees – the United States Navy shall pay tribute to this hallowed connection between baseball and the military with the commissioning of the USS Cooperstown. The future ship will join the active fleet as the newest Freedom-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) in the Surface Force, with Joe Torre and Johnny Bench on for the ceremony.
The USS Cooperstown pays homage to the 70 Hall of Famers who served their country during wartime, participating in various conflicts such as the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The ship’s motto, “America’s Away Team,” reflects the proud heritage of these brave men.
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules, and reality of the game.”Jacques Barzun
This commissioning ceremony, set to unfold on Manhattan’s Pier 88, is the result of a collaboration between the New York Council Navy League and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown New York. The USS Cooperstown was launched in Marinette, Wisconsin on the 19th of January, 2020, and subsequently received its christening on the 29th of February, 2020
Built by Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri Marinette Marine, the USS Cooperstown is the 12th Freedom-class littoral combat ship to be built. Equipped with advanced technology, she is intended to operate independently or alongside her fellow combatants in the ever-changing landscape of modern warfare. The LCS ship design has been controversial however, with the Navy recommending the scrapping of the original four hulls in 2021 – 10 years ahead of prior planning – while four are planned to be delivered after this one.
Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark, the Honorary Sponsor of the USS Cooperstown, will deliver remarks at the commissioning as will famed New York Yankees coach Joe Torre. Johnny Bench will serve as the Long Glass Presenter. In the days preceding the commissioning ceremony, a series of high-profile events have be held, but the highlight for most crew was attending the New York Yankees game in the Bronx this week.
The Hall of Fame aims to maintain a strong connection not only with the ship but also with the officers and sailors assigned to the USS Cooperstown. The crew areas will be adorned with information and photos highlighting the Hall of Famers who proudly served in the U.S. Navy and replicas of the Hall of Fame plaques representing its Navy veterans will grace the doors of each of the USS Cooperstown’s staterooms. There are also murals and informative signs aboard depicting the Hall of Famers’ military service and sacrifice. Additionally, the Hall of Fame has donated artifacts related to baseball and the United States Navy.
One of the relics aboard the new ship with be the jersey of Hall of Famer pitcher Bob Feller. Nicknamed “the Heater from Van Meter” and “Bullet Bob” he played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Cleveland Indians. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, baseball legend Bob Feller joined the United States Navy as the first American professional athlete to enlist. Despite having a military exemption due to his father’s failing health, Feller insisted on serving in combat missions. Initially serving as a physical fitness instructor, he was later assigned to the USS Alabama as a Gun Captain in various operations in the Pacific and North Atlantic theaters. Throughout his naval service, Feller continued to play baseball for the Norfolk Naval Station’s Bluejackets and the Naval Station Great Lakes team. After being discharged as a Chief Petty Officer in August 1945, Feller was decorated with six campaign ribbons, eight battle stars, and was later made an honorary member of the Green Berets.
During the Mast Stepping ceremony for the USS Cooperstown in the fall of 2022, several medallions and a baseball were placed into the base of the ship’s mast to establish the foundational character of the vessel and to promote good luck.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has been actively involved in the Mast Stepping and Christening events for the USS Cooperstown as the ship progressed through its journey. Announced in 2015 by the United States Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the Navy’s 23rd Littoral Combat Ship became the first naval ship named after Cooperstown, N.Y., a fitting tribute to those who have served both on the baseball field and in the theater of war.
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