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Baseball a July 4 tradition

Fourth of July, fireworks and baseball: Americana at its best.

In Las Vegas, the 51s celebrated with fireworks on the eve of Independence Day in a tradition that started about 25 year ago so their pyrotechnics show wouldn’t conflict with an annual fundraiser at the Silver Bowl, now Sam Boyd Stadium.

The fireworks attract one of biggest crowds each year for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league affiliate.

The Fourth remains one of baseball’s biggest days, and the holiday goes back a long way, though not quite to 1776.

• IRON HORSE EXIT — On this day 69 years ago, Lou Gehrig gave what is the best speech ever by an athlete. It was on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium when the “Iron Horse” announced his retirement because of a debilitating disease that now bears his name.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. …

“Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something! …

“So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break; but I have an awful lot to live for!”

Gehrig, the son of German immigrants, died two years later.

• BIRTHDAYS — Of the 44 major leaguers born July 4, Mickey Welch is the only Hall of Fame member. He was born in 1859 and played from 1880 to 1892. Also born on the Fourth — Morganna Roberts, baseball’s “Kissing Bandit,” and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. According to Wikipedia, Morganna (60-23-39) made her first escapade onto a baseball field in 1971 at age 17. Her prey: Pete Rose.

• LATE FIREWORKS — A 1985 game that started on the Fourth ended up with fireworks shooting off July 5.

The New York Mets scored five runs in the top of the 19th inning and held off the host Atlanta Braves, who scored two in the bottom of the inning to prevail, 16-13.

The game lasted 6 hours, 10 minutes, which included a rain delay. The final out was made close to 4 a.m.

The holiday crowd started with about 44,000 fans, but the diehards who saw the last out were not denied fireworks.

“According to reports, 911 operators were inundated with phone calls from the neighborhoods surrounding Fulton County Stadium fearing that the city was under attack,” writes syntaxofthings.typepad.com.

• ROAD TRIP — With the 51s and the Dodgers on the road today, you still can make a big league trip — if you’ve recently won a gasoline lottery.

The Angels will host Toronto, with a “Big Bang” fireworks show to follow. Let’s hope the game won’t go 19 innings.

Or head to Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks will host the San Diego Padres. The first 25,000 fans will receive a commemorative Fourth of July T-shirt — probably not valued at the cost for fuel it will take to make the 500-mile round trip — and fireworks will soar above Chase Field’s air-conditioned comfort.

• NEXT YEAR, ALASKA — Plan a trip to Anchorage for the annual holiday doubleheader between two crosstown rivals — the Glacier Pilots and the Bucs of the Alaska Baseball League.

Tickets are $5, and the high temperature usually is in the low 60s.

And you can watch the antics of Glacier Pilots mascot “Piper the Moose.”

Where else but in baseball?

Where else but in America?

COMPILED BY JEFF WOLF REVIEW-JOURNAL

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