Bobby Herechski eyed home plate.
A catcher wearing the uniform of the Omaha South Legion team awaited the pitch at John Stella Field in Brown Park near 16th and U Streets. But Sgt. Herechski wore a different kind of uniform: Army battle fatigues from his deployment in Iraq.
The 27-year-old retired Army sergeant threw out the first pitch at Sunday's game between Omaha South and Roncalli High Schools as part of a ceremony for a World War II memorial that honors 40 servicemen who played baseball in Omaha and died fighting in the war.
Each name on the memorial was read, followed by the ringing of a bell, before the last game of the Van Metre Wood Bat Tournament.
“To see what the community is doing for veterans old and new is special,” said Herechski, who retired from the Army last year. “I just feel honored.”
|AT WAR, AT HOME|
|Find more World-Herald coverage of the Nebraskans and Iowans who have served our country at our At War, At Home page.|
The bronze plaque that is now displayed in left field at John Stella Field was at Rosenblatt Stadium for nearly 50 years. After plans were announced to demolish the old ballpark, longtime groundskeeper Jesse Cuevas contacted community activists John Stella and Steve Cavlovic, who began searching for a suitable place to relocate the plaque.
Omaha contractor Joe Smejkal designed and built a 6-foot limestone monument to display the plaque, which is placed inside the entrance gate down the left-field line.
The monument, funded by private donations, is flanked by the words of a poem titled “Never the Same, ” written by the mother of one of the 40 honorees.
The plaque was dedicated in 2011 before a crowd of more than 400 people, Cavlovic said.
“We just wanted to have another special ceremony to honor the fallen,” he said of Sunday's event.
The service originally was scheduled for Memorial Day, but soggy weather meant that games were rescheduled, so the ceremony also was postponed, Cavlovic said.
The weekend after the Fourth of July seemed to be ideal because of the patriotism surrounding the holiday, he said.
“This could very well become an annual event,” Cavlovic said. “It just depends on how the people accept it.”
Herechski, who works for Frito-Lay and Chops Bowling Alley, said he was happy for the opportunity to help honor soldiers who died in World War II. He also is a friend of Bill Mulligan, the coach of the Omaha South team.
Mulligan said Herechski's participation was appropriate, considering the age of the athletes.
“They see the wall before every game and they understand what it means,” Mulligan said. “But having somebody close to their own age around makes a little bigger impact.”
Soldiers are a reminder of the sacrifices made so that baseball games can be played, he said.
“As Coach Stella always says, 'We're playing because of veterans,'” Mulligan said.