The 19 cannon shots heard by Hell’s Kitchen residents on Saturday morning were not for the Coronation of King Charles III — they were for the commissioning of USS Cooperstown at Pier 88.
The 12th Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship, named in honor of the hometown of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is one of the last of its class to be commissioned. Tight security encircled the Manhattan Cruise Terminal during the event, which commenced just after 10am, accompanied by the firing of multiple cannons.
The USS Cooperstown is unique as it pays tribute to the 70 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who served in the military, marking the first time a ship has been named after the small New York village. Delivered to the Navy in September, the ship will move to its new home in Mayport, Florida, following the commissioning ceremony.
The event featured an all-star lineup of speakers, including Joe Torre, a Major League Baseball executive. New York Governor Kathy Hochul also took the stage to share her thoughts on the ship’s significance. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Admiral John Mustin were also present, addressing the attendees.
In his statement, Del Toro emphasized the importance of the ship’s mission: “LCS 23 honors the baseball greats who, in service of our nation, sacrificed their baseball careers for us. I have full confidence that the officers and crew of this great ship will continue to honor their legacy.”
According to DVIDS, although Cooperstown is the first naval ship to bear its name, it is not the first ship influenced by baseball. The Liberty Ship SS Lou Gehrig and others were named after Hall of Famers. Baseball was introduced to the Navy in the late 1800s as a “rational recreation” to keep sailors engaged and out of trouble. Over the following decades, it became a phenomenon that US sailors, many of whom were major league pros, helped to spread worldwide. As sailors journeyed across the globe, so did the sport, with navy ships playing against local teams as early as the 1870s. They introduced the sport to Japan, the Caribbean, Hawaii, China, Nicaragua and the Philippines over the years. In 1916, Southeast Asia saw championship series between teams from ships stationed across the region, drawing crowds of over 30,000. More than 440 major and minor league baseball players fought in World War I.
During World War II, with some military branches limiting organized sports, many professional baseball players joined the Navy. Notable names include Bob Feller (a chief petty officer and gun captain), Ted Williams (a Marine aviator in both World War II and the Korean War), Yogi Berra (a gunner’s mate and participant in the D-Day landings) and Phil Rizzuto (gun captain). Over 500 major league and 4,000 minor league players served. After the Vietnam War, Major League Baseball honored hundreds of American POWs with a “Golden Ticket,” granting lifetime admission to any baseball game for the recipient and a guest. This special pass became a way for POWs to reconnect with their families and rediscover their freedom while enjoying America’s national pastime.
During the celebration, the banner on the USS Cooperstown read, “America’s Away Team.” In her address, Governor Hochul stated: “I am confident that our nation will persevere with patriots like those who will board this ship, journeying to Norfolk, Florida, and potentially facing danger one day. We send our love with them. Though you refer to yourselves as America’s Away Team, you will forever hold a special place in our hearts as America’s Hometown Team, originating in the wonderful state of New York.”