CHARLESTON, S.C.—Several decades ago, baseball legends represented their country not just by hitting home runs.
Hall of Famers such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial all served their country by fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces, despite being adored by hundreds of thousands of fans.
On Monday afternoon at the South Atlantic League Home Run Derby, the Charleston RiverDogs made a huge splash by becoming the first known organization to host the event on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier—the USS Yorktown (CV-10), a World War II aircraft carrier that was retired in the 1970s and is now part of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in the Charleston Harbor.
“This is just a great day to showcase America’s pastime—baseball,” Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette said. “And what better place to do it than on one of America’s most historic fighting ships.”
Once Charleston general manager Dave Echols learned the team would be hosting the league all-star game, he wasn’t afraid to do something he described as “crazy”. Echols and his staff teamed up with Dan Migala, an advertising entrepreneur who shared a story about visiting Willie Mays at his home after meeting him in Cooperstown.
“Willie said his proudest moment in history—and this is arguably the greatest baseball player that ever lived—and he paused and he said I fulfilled my dream when I served my country,” Migala recalled.
USS Yorktown was commissioned in 1943 during World War II after the previous carrier, the CV-5, was lost at the Battle of Midway the year before. The CV-10 served in many campaigns in the Pacific War, earning the Presidential Unit Citation and winning multiple battle stars in Vietnam as well.
Approximately 75 feet above water, 10 contestants launched balls into the Charleston harbor, where the U.S. Coast Guard as well as volunteer jet skiers and kayakers retrieved the balls to ensure that no sea life was in danger.
At the end of the derby, the top four hitters to advance to the final round were Hagerstown third baseman Matt Skole, Lexington third baseman Matt Duffy, Asheville first baseman Harold Riggins and Savannah center fielder Travis Taijeron. One champion will be crowned on Tuesday night before the All-Star Game at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park, or simply, “The Joe”.
Celebrities in attendance were Bill Murray, the RiverDogs’ co-owner and ‘Director of Fun’ and the Miller High Life deliveryman, actor Windell Middlebrooks.
“This is the High Life, baby,” Middlebrooks said. “I’ve done a lot of crazy things on this High Life tour. But, I’ll tell you what—this might be my favorite.”
Clint Longenecker contributed to this story.