The year was 1976. It was our country’s bicentennial – we had been a free nation for exactly 200 years. It was April 25 and our baseball season was in full swing. That day one of the many games going on was between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles
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Dodgers playing at Dodger Stadium. Playing center field for the Cubs was lefty Rick Monday. According to Rick, this is what happened in the fourth inning. He says, “I was in center field. I don’t know if I heard the crowd first or saw the guys first, but two guys ran on the field.” He said, “When people run on the field, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Is it because they had too much to drink? Are they trying to win a bet?” They just don’t know.
But as Rick Monday watched the whole scene play out, he knew something wasn’t right. One of the guys was carrying something, and then he noticed it was an American flag. And when they got to shallow left field, they unfurled the flag as if it was a picnic blanket. They knelt beside it, not to honor it, but to douse it with lighter fluid. The players and the crowd at the stadium could not believe what they were witnessing. These two guys were about to burn the American flag! Rick Mondayremembers thinking, “What these guys were doing was wrong. It was wrong in 1976 and it’s wrong now.” He thought about all the friends he had lost while protecting the rights and freedoms that flag represented – and he was mad.
So Rick Monday started to run. He says, “To this day, I can’t tell you what was going through my mind, except I was mad and I was angry”. When the two men lit that first match, the wind blew it out. As Monday ran toward them he remembers thinking, that in itself was strange because there was hardly ever any wind at Dodger Stadium.
Then, the second match was lit. Monday says, “I saw them go and put the match down to the flag. But they can’t light it if they don’t have it”. So Chicago Cub Rick Monday scooped up that flag and took off running. To his amazement, it had never been lit on fire!
As Monday ran to the dugout with the flag, Dodger third-base coach, Tommy Lasorda, made his way to the two men and asked them to take just one swing so that he could give these guys what the 50,000 people wanted them to get – a good licking! But, by now, they had been lead off the field by security.
Today, over 30 years later, now retired ballplayer, Rick Monday, still gets letters from all over the country. But one of the most moving letters was from a Vietnam vet. In his letter this Vietnam vet wrote that during his two tours of duty in Vietnam he kept two things with him. The first was a picture of his wife. The second was a small American flag folded neatly in the left breast pocket of his uniform. He said he would be in the mud for weeks and months at a time, and these two things were what he looked at to keeping him connected with reality. He wrote in his letter,“Thanks for protecting what those of us who were in Vietnam held so dearly”.
Rick Monday ends his story with these simple, yet powerful words. He says, “That wasn’t just a flag on the field. It was a flag that people look at with respect. We have a lot of rights and freedoms. But we also have the option, if we don’t like something, to make it better. Or you also have the option, if you don’t like it, to pack up and leave. But don’t come onto the field and burn an American flag”.
Photographer James Roark was at the stadium that day and he snapped the photo just as Monday snatched the flag from the protesters. The photo was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Later that year Dodger general manager, Al Campanis, presented that flag to Rick Monday and today it hangs proudly in his home in Vero Beach, Florida.
And one last piece to the story. That day after Monday saved that flag from being burned and the protesters were taken off the field; there was quite a buzz in the stands. People were shocked by what they had just experienced. But then, without any prompting or direction by anyone, the 50,000 fans stood and began to sing “God Bless America”. 50,000 voices, people who were moved by what they had seen, and they turned to God.
“God bless America, my home sweet home”.
Oh may every day be a day that as a nation we turn to God.