Military Sunday & The Padres Legendary “Camo’s”

Credit: AP Photo
Credit: AP Photo

It’s another bright, cloudless blue-skied, sunny San Diego Sunday afternoon, hopefully with that great cool ocean breeze. The grass at Petco Park, in its alternating shades of green rows, which sometimes are straight, other times slightly crossing, are crisp and sparkling. The brownish hue from the dirt radiates. The senses, as you walk up to the field from the north side entrance, above the beach in right field, are completely bombarded by these radiant, bright contrasts. But what really grabs your attention, what really causes the skin to tingle, are the perfectly in line Military officers and enlisted soldiers, in their various dress, standing at attention or a rigid at-ease, along both sides of the foul lines.

Sometimes, it’s the Marine Band and Honor Guard marching into center field, or it could be a huge American Flag with a spatter of patriotic fireworks. It is at this point that you see the specialty that the San Diego Padres have created for their town and its military tradition. This is Military Appreciation Sunday. It happens every Sunday, for home games, at Petco Park.

San Diego has long been a city for the military. It is a crucial port for the U.S. Navy, a center for training of new recruits for the Navy and U.S. Marines, and is also home to the “Arlington of the West”, Fort Rosecrans cemetery a top Point Loma. It is because of this special relationship that the San Diego Padres decided to begin a Military Appreciation night in 1996 with an annual event.

Then in 2000, they came up with the great idea of wearing the camo uni’s to further demonstrate their appreciation. In 2008, the Padres began wearing those uni’s and honoring the military every Sunday home game, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. The event and uniforms have been so successful that you frequently see many other teams doing it across the Major Leagues, of course, not with quite the same underlying fundamental home field result as that in San Diego.

The direct official ties from the San Diego Padres to the U.S. Military began in November,1995, with the establishment of the Padres’ Military Affairs Department. This was the first such tie in professional sports. Furthermore, the San Diego Padres were also first to continuously fly the POW/MIA flag at all home games.

In 1996, the Padres Ownership designed the position of Director of Military Affairs and staffed it with Captain John C. Ensch, USN, Ret, (AKA Capt. Jack), solidifying their ongoing efforts to reach out to the military community. Captain Jack is a highly decorated military hero who flew countless mission during the Vietnam War and elsewhere. During that War, he was shot down and remained a POW for a period of time. His outreach effort with the San Diego Padres includes many ticket opportunities and commitments for military service or deployment, whether active, retired, previously served, or Reserve. Furthermore, Padres lifetime passes to regular season home games have been given to more than 700 American World War II and Korean War POW’s. Captain Jack also facilitated a Military Honor Wall and a large-scale model of the USS Enterprise which pays tribute to Major and Negro League ball players who served in the United States Armed Forces.

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Jerry Coleman, “The Colonel”, is another great fixture in San Diego Padres history with ties to the military. In his younger days, while playing Semi-pro ball and for the New York Yankees, Lt. Col. Coleman was an Aviator for the U.S. Marine Corps. In Fact, he is the only Major League ballplayer who served in both World War II and the Korean War while seeing combat. (Ted Williams was at both but only saw combat in one of them) The Hall of Fame broadcaster was a fixture in San Diego Padres for decades.

Military appreciation events at Petco Park also served as a stage to promote the continuing outreach services for military personal from around the country. One noticeable program is Wounded Warrior Project. Gary Sinise, aka Lt. Dan from “Forrest Gump”, appeared at the park in 2014 to talk about the project’s success in building homes for the Wounded Warriors. Sales of Padres’ military merchandise also aid the project, many times being donated to the San Diego Fisher house which helps families stay together during hospitalization for injury, illness, or disease. Throughout the year, San Diego Padres Players make appearances on local military bases and various in port aircraft carriers for certain events always honoring the working soldier.

The trademark of the San Diego Military appreciation events have been the various camo uni’s that the players have donned. The first camo uniform to appear on the field for the San Diego Padres was the Army “Woodland Design”. This uni was utilized from 2000 through 2005. It is known as the “Jungle camo” because it was modeled after the uniforms used by the Army in the Vietnam war. As evident in the cards displayed here, the uniform features a mixture of darks in brown, green, and beige. The Padres across the front, the name and number on the back, and the SD on the left sleeve where in plain white. The result of the camo was a very loud statement that caught your eye. The hat was the same green featured in the uniform with a Bronzish SD that was outlined in black. An undershirt, short sleeve or long, could be worn, which was the same dark green.

The 2001 Fleer Premium Phil Nevin #46 and Brett Boone #185 and the 2001 Pacific Phil Nevin #372 were all three issued in December of 2000. These appear to be the first regular issue cards featuring the Padres Camo uni. The Pacific Phil Nevin is part of the last Pacific set ever produced. Pictured below is the Star Ruby version of the Fleer Premium Phil Nevin, it is numbered 86 out of 125 and has a refractor characteristic with ruby-red lettering. There were a few more issued in the year of 2001 that featured the camo uni’s but production didn’t really take off until 2002 and 2003. During the early 2000s camo cards mainly featured Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Sean Burroughs, and Mark Kotsay. Refer to the checklist for the various listings. If you would like to see the cards featured for this article, please visit https://sdpch.wordpress.com/2016/02/

 (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Desert Camo (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

After 2003, it appears that the novelty of it all had begun to wear off. Cards depicting the camo uniform greatly diminished. In fact, from 2004 through 2008 camo cards were very limited and almost non-existent.

The San Diego Camo uniform went through its first evolution in 2006. From 2006 until 2010 the Padres donned the Navy Seals, “Desert Version” camo. This jersey, as evident in the demonstrated cards below, was lighter than the previous green Army “Woodland Design”. While using the same green cap, the top was a mix of lighter and darker brown hues. The Padres across the front and the name and number across the back were in green with matching green belt and now a green batting helmet with white SD. After the drought of camo card issues in the mid 2000s, in 2009 and 2010 they made a big comeback. There are numerous cards in those two years, mainly focusing in the various Upper Deck and Topps/Bowman issues. During this time period, specifically in 2008, the Padres began wearing their camo unis at every Sunday home game, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day cementing the visual aspect of the San Diego Padres Sunday Military Appreciation Day. Pictured here is a 2009 Upper Deck Signature Stars Gold Chris Young Autograph, 2010 Topps Gwynn Jr. and 2011 Bowman Cory Luebke, demonstrating the Navy Seals, desert version camo uniform from different angles.

In 2011, the Padres went “legit” with their camo uni. They produced an authentic replica of the MARPAT, (Marine Patten) digital camo. This pattern, which was personally approved by the Commander General, James Conway, when Padres leadership visited Washington D.C in 2010, is an authentic camo pattern utilizing smaller patches of digital camo that are intertwined. This version of the Camo Jersey was so realistic that many of the players, such as Will Venable and Heath Bell, sports writer Bill Center, and “Capt” Jack all felt that the players would blend into the field, thus making them harder to see on T.V. and by the opposing players. This jersey was a mix of browns, beige, and grey. The Padres across the front and the number on the back was a dark brown outlined by white. Both the batting helmet and field cap was a tan brown as well as the belt. The name across the back was in white. Everything on the uniform had a nice outline to it which made it pop out of the soft, blending images of the digital camo. Of course, in Padres fashion, each portion of sales from fan purchases of this jersey went to the Marine Corp. Assistance Program.

Many of the cards representative of the MARPAT jersey can, again, be found mainly in the topps/bowman issues. Some nice cards to collect in this jersey pattern are the jersey cards that were made from the camo jersey, demonstrated here, https://sdpch.wordpress.com/2016/02/

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

These cards give a nice first hand look at the pattern and are an attractive change from the regular issue jersey cards. It appears that when the Padres made the switch to this jersey there was renewed excitement in the collective world with many issues. As the novelty wore off, into 2014 and 15, you begin to see less of them featured in the various sets. Here are some good looks at the MARPAT Jersey from different angles and different issues.

As the San Diego Padres move into the 2016 season, they once again are transitioning their Military Appreciation Sunday Camo Jerseys. With permission of the U.S. Navy, the new jersey is a digital camo jersey in the colors of the U.S. Navy working uniform, “type 1”. The colors of this jersey are deck gray, haze gray, black and Navy blue. The sailors who don the Navy uniform refer to them as “Blueberries”. Along with this jersey, the players will wear the “old” traditional blue hat with white SD and grey pants. Probably similar to the previous times that the Padres have transitioned their camo’s, as it relates to the collectible card sets, I imagine that there will be many cards issued in the upcoming sets.

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Michael J. Clark
Michael Clark is a Las Vegas historian with a Bachelor’s Degree in U.S. and Nevada history from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is a third generation Padres fan who has “paid attention” ever since his family returned to the states from military service in Germany in the early 1980’s. His grandparents move to Chula Vista in the 30’s where they bought a house on K Street. Both parents graduated Chula Vista H.S. in 1959. During his Dad’s tenure in the Air Force, 26 years, multiple times he, with his Mother, brother, and sister, made their home in that house. His Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, and Father are all buried at Ft. Rosecrans, Pt Loma where they get to see every Padres home game right across the bay. It is the authors goal to bring many of the great tales from the Padres storied past to light for many of the new fans and to remind those who may have lived through it. Most articles will also feature baseball cards of the players mentioned. This gives an added peek into the past and provides some nostalgia. You can follow me on twitter at gwynn19@wcoastcapper

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