04/09/10 — Freedom pitch -- Seymour Johnson's own 336th Rocketeers honored

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Freedom pitch -- Seymour Johnson's own 336th Rocketeers honored

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 9, 2010 1:46 PM

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Troy Herring

Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Edwards throws out the ceremonial first pitch during the Kinston Indians' season opener.

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Troy Herring

Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base streak over Kinston's historic Grainger Stadium Thursday evening.

KINSTON -- Christopher Edwards has gotten used to performing under pressure -- launching fighter jets both at home and at war without the option of failure.

So as the Air Force staff sergeant waited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch during the Kinston Indians' season opener at Grainger Stadium, he focused more on the honor of being chosen than on the nerves one might expect to accompany a walk to the mound in front of thousands of people.

"I'm really more excited than anything," Edwards said. "I just hope I throw the ball far enough."

Moments later, he accomplished that mission, and was met with thunderous applause.

And despite the playful banter that came after the pitch from those he attended the game with, the F-15E crew chief said he was satisfied with the end result.

"I think someone would have hit it out of the park, but it feels great," he said. "I'm really proud and honored."

Edwards was one of dozens of members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 336th Rocketeers honored at Thursday's game, partly because the unit is expected to deploy in the fall to Afghanistan.

Janie Williams was among the fans in attendance who rose to their feet to give the airmen their due.

"We see their jets flying out here all the time. They are just awesome," the Kinston native said. "So cheering is the least we can do. ... I'm not sure it was a strike, but that's not what matters."

Her son, Raymond, agreed.

"I have some buddies in the Army who are over in Afghanistan right now, so I've heard, maybe more than a lot of people, that the jets from Seymour Johnson saved a bunch of lives over there," he said. "So, yeah, I'm grateful to these guys. They are the ones making sure my buddies make it back home."

Moments after the cheers died down, the teams' respective lineups were announced and a Marine band played the national anthem.

The Rocketeers, though, weren't quite finished making their presence at the ballpark felt.

Toward the end of the song, three Strike Eagles appeared on the horizon.

And by the time the crowd got to the last few lines, the jets were streaking over the diamond -- their trademark roar not far behind.

"The Star-Spangled Banner, it always moves me, but those jets, they gave me chills," said Lynette James, who drove from LaGrange to see the Indians' opener. "Seeing them fly makes me feel safe, but it's really more about pride. Our military, keeping us free, they just make me so proud to be American."