The Fourth of July and baseball have become synonymous.
In typically ideal weather, large crowds gather at the ballpark, with emotional pregame festivities and celebratory postgame fireworks bookending the main event.
“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and the Fourth of July,” RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “It's the whole deal. It's part of the game.”
And while that holiday experience is promoted as a day away from work, an afternoon with the family and a well-deserved day off, it's the exact opposite for the game's actual entertainers.
Stuck in the middle of an extended season, baseball players view it as another midsummer game, long after the season started and too far from it ending.
And for minor league players, many in random cities far away from home, it can provide a sudden reminder of what they are missing out on.
RedHawks veteran first baseman Mike Hessman, for example, was drafted when he was 18. Now 34, Hessman has played in a July 4 game the past 16 years.
Originally from Northern California, Hessman played a majority of those games across the country, far away from most family members.
“We have a family tradition back home where my family goes out to Shaver Lake,” Hessman said. “It's up above Fresno toward the Sacramento area. I haven't been able to go since I came out of high school. I do miss that. I get caught up in the pictures and the stories from when they went, but it's tough to miss out. Maybe someday, when it's all said and done, I'll be able to get back there and enjoy a week at the lake.”
But not now.
Hessman and all his teammates won't get to enjoy those family traditions and important events until after they retire.
From the initial training in early March to the final game in late September, spanning about seven months, it's all baseball, all the time.
The occasional off day, and it is extremely rare, usually comes with a plane ticket to another city.
“There's a lot of stuff we miss over the years,” DeFrancesco said. “Events, birthdays, weddings, deaths, baseball has us locked in for the summertime. Our offseason is what we strive for, what we work hard for. We work hard for those months so we get time to be with our families. But it is definitely a commitment that is above and beyond any occupation.”
So for this year's Fourth, DeFrancesco will be back in his familiar place on the top step of the dugout, managing his Oklahoma City players in front of a sold-out crowd of celebrating families, a time zone away from his hometown of Suffern, N.Y.
“This is all I've known since I was 21,” DeFrancesco said. “Being part of it is fun. There's no barbecues, there's no boating, there's no hanging out at the lake on the Fourth of July. We are playing ball and I think the fans like coming out and watching a good show.”