Jim Hereth squatted behind the plate while in the guise of River Cats gear and a catcher's mask as his 10-year old son, Devin, with 13-year old daughter Summer watching, fired the first pitch of the game Tuesday night at Raley Field.
Public address announcer Greg Lawson explained that it was in honor of their father, who was expected home within days after being deployed in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard.
Hereth, a Sacramento native, yanked off the face mask and his shocked kids gleefully raced to him. They all cried. There was a standing ovation.
It was the first time the River Cats had hosted this surprise welcome home, but it likely won't be the last.
Such emotional homecomings have played out in major-league and minor-league ballparks across the country.
"I asked the River Cats if they'd let me do this after watching Internet highlights of this sort of thing on the Fourth of July, when we were in Afghanistan," said Hereth, a sergeant and 12-year veteran who was deployed for a year and reported that his daughter had grown 4 inches. "I'm forever grateful for this, and we'll always remember it.
"I had my lips at a quiver. I can't take this lightly because you never know what'll happen in war. Some guys aren't as lucky as I am. Some guys don't come home."
Hereth, 42, is on leave for at least 45 days. He said he appreciates each day with his kids, even if they're now quickly draining his bank account with trips to the mall and movies.
They're also regulars at River Cats games, as is Hereth's father, Herb, a Vietnam War veteran who stood at attention and saluted Tuesday night during that first pitch, his lips at a quiver.
What do you think of surprise military first-pitch homecomings?
It's a nice moment to witness.
As long as it's not done too often.
Just play ball already.
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