On July 15, 2017, there were three sacrifice flies during a lengthy 16-inning baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. But one of them didn’t show up in the box score. Today, even in the absence of baseball, and in the presence of a pandemic, you might catch one. And if you do, you’ll be reminded that there are far bigger sacrifices being made off the field.
Do You Hear That Noise? Look Up!
It was July 15, 2017 – nearly three years ago. The Sox were in first place in the American League East and they were hosting their bitter rivals at historic Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. It was a clear day in Beantown. 73 degrees and sunny. Winds were out of the East at 10mph. Visibility approached 10 miles. It was a perfect day to fly!
I was hosting a BBQ at my house that day and had just finished setting up the TV so that you could watch the game, through an open window, while outside. The National Anthem had just begun so I stopped what I was doing to respectfully watch. About halfway through, I heard a faint rumble that turned into a deafening roar in a matter of seconds. I pulled out my phone, pointed it to the sky, and began video recording.
This is what I saw! (Watch the full video above.)
It was four F-15 Eagles of the 104th Fighter Wing, a unit of the Massachusetts Air National Guard stationed at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass.
In times of war, the 104th’s mission is to protect the Northeast corridor of the United States. But on this beautiful and peaceful summer day in July 2017, their mission was quite different. They were participating in a pre-game ceremony organized by the Red Sox Foundation’s Home Base Program to salute more than 800 Vietnam veterans. It was the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and the message to these veterans was simple… “Thank you for your service.”
As the National Anthem came to a resounding conclusion, the F-15s flew over the park. Their timing couldn’t have been more perfect. My manager at work, a former Navy fighter pilot, tells me this is called “hitting a TOT (time on target).” And boy did they!
16 Innings of Baseball? Isn’t 9 enough?
The flyover would mark the beginning of an epic 16-inning, 5 hour and 50 minute, 512 pitch battle between two of Major League Baseball’s most storied clubs.
The Red Sox scored first off Mitch Moreland’s sacrifice fly in the 3rd inning, taking a 1-0 lead. The Yankees would tie it up in the top half of the 9th inning when Matt Holliday hit a solo shot off Craig Kimbrel that sailed over the Green Monster, making the score 1-1.
The Yankees would score three more in the top of the 16th, one of them coming off a Gary Sanchez sacrifice fly, taking a 4-1 lead.
The Red Sox were unable to answer in the bottom of the 16th, taking the loss. The final score – Yankees 4, Red Sox 1.
Not many of us remember the details of that game. Most forget that the Red Sox had been 43-0 that season when leading after eight innings, and that Kimbrel, the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game the previous Tuesday, had never blown a save at Fenway in his career until that night. Most fans have no recollection that the Red Sox put the game under protest after a bizarre base running play in the top of the 11th inning.
But everyone remembers the flyover. They remember the sound of those jets as they darted across the sky. They remember the way the sound waves reverberated through every cell in their body. And they remember the message that those planes were sending. That we honor those who serve and protect and we thank them for their services.
We Are Alone, Together #AmericaStrong
Three years later, a similar and equally important message is being sent to our frontline workers fighting COVID-19. As part of a nationwide salute coordinated by the Air Force, fighter jets are gracing the skies above Texas, California, and even Massachusetts. Just last week the 104th, the same division and maybe even the same pilots from back in 2017, flew over parts of Massachusetts to say “thank you” to our state’s healthcare workers and first responders.
These flyovers are a reminder that even in our darkest hours when we may feel vulnerable, afraid, and alone, we are not alone. We have an entire nation behind us. They are a reminder that the sacrifices that we are ALL making do not go unnoticed.
As we stay at home doing our part to help our frontline workers, let’s think forward to the day when we’ll be back at the ballpark drinking beers, eating hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, and watching the Sox beat the Yankees!
And let’s continue to honor our veterans, of this ‘war’ and all wars. For they are the ones making the ultimate sacrifice so that one day we can return to the parks!
And while you’re at it, let’s keep looking up at the sky. You might get lucky like I did and see something beautiful.
Flyovers Are Critical for Training, So Don’t Freak Out
For anyone perceiving these flyovers as political stunts with funds better spent elsewhere, know this: According to the Air Force, flyovers fulfill critical training requirements for the pilots who must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency AND taxpayers incur no additional costs. Hopefully this allows you to point your eyes to the skies and enjoy the show!
I know I will.
Jonathan Gallagher lives in Boston, Massachusetts where he is the Director of Digital Experiences at TIBCO Software. In his spare time, he plays in both the 28+ and 38+ divisions in the Boston Men’s Baseball League for the Winthrop Dodgers, giving him more than 50 games per season.