ATLANTA — It wasn't that the work day began before dawn at Fort Bragg, N.C. It was the relentless physical pace in striving for excellence that heightened the appreciation Mike Dunn already felt for the military personnel who toil tirelessly at the world's largest military base.
The Marlins reliever got a closeup look at their spirit and dedication during four days of joining in training and interacting with soldiers as part of a group of major-league players who participated in Fox Sports' "Spring Training to the Troops" tour in February 2014.
Dunn recalls the experience as life-changing, and he is excited about the opportunity he and his teammates have to provide a few hours of entertainment for the troops at Fort Bragg when the Marlins face the Braves there tonight in what is believed to be the first regular-season game staged by a professional sports league on a U.S. military base.
It will be televised at 8 p.m. by ESPN.
"I've always appreciated our service men and women, but going there and spending time with them one-on-one really gave me a different outlook on it," Dunn said. "So being able to play this game, give them a chance to watch a game, I think is going to be an awesome experience for everybody.
"To visit there was unforgettable, and I think this game will be unforgettable, too."
The 12,500-seat Fort Bragg Field has risen from an abandoned golf course on the massive U.S. Army base over the past four months as a show of gratitude by Major League Baseball and the players' association, who spent about $5 million on the project.
The effort to shape and prepare the field to major-league standards and erect temporary stands and facilities is impressive. But the focus will be on the troops at the base that encompasses 251 square miles and has more than 50,000 active duty personnel.
"It really is an honor to be able to go. I'm excited about it," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "I feel like the energy is going to be great. From our standpoint, it should be an appreciation. It seems like not only baseball but all sports and the nation have been a lot better lately about honoring our military and respecting what they do for us."
Plans for the game were finalized during spring training, and Marlins players have embraced the chance to be part of the historic occasion for various reasons.
The connection is personal for LF Christian Yelich, whose younger brother Cameron is a U.S. Marine who has been stationed in Japan and is currently home on leave in California.
"I asked him if he wanted to come, but I don't think he's going to make it out. But he knows we're going there and he's going to watch on TV," Yelich said, adding that he supported his brother joining the corps out of high school. "I'm proud of his decision, and that's a tough commitment. I feel like the people who serve our country are the best our nation has to offer.
"I think we're all looking forward to it, giving back to the people who serve our nation."
INTERNATIONAL SIGNINGS: The Braves agreed to terms with SS Kevin Maitan and C Abraham Gutierrez among their class of 13. Maitan, 16, a switch-hitter landed a $4.25 million signing bonus and is widely regarded as the prize of this year's international signing period. Also, the A's signed the top Cuban prospect, OF Lazaro Armenteros, who received a $3 million signing bonus.
BLUE JAYS: INF Ryan Goins, one of two position players to pitch for Toronto in Friday's 19-inning loss to the Indians, was placed on the 15-day DL with a sore right forearm.
INDIANS: 3B Juan Uribe left after being hit on the right hand by a pitch in the sixth inning. X-rays were negative, but Uribe may have lost a fingernail.
METS: OF Curtis Granderson, out since straining his right calf Tuesday, should return to the starting lineup today, manager Terry Collins said. … OF Juan Lagares, out since June 14 with a sprained left thumb, was activated from the 15-day disabled list.
NATIONALS: Manager Dusty Baker said he spoke with RF Bryce Harper for not immediately running on a long hit in Friday night's game. Harper's fourth-inning single could have been at least a double if he hadn't stopped to admire the shot off the wall.
REDS: 1B Joey Votto was scratched from the lineup because of a sore right shoulder.
TWINS: SS Eduardo Escobar left in the third inning with a strained left hamstring and is day to day.
YANKEES: INF/OF Nick Swisher opted out of his minor-league deal, saying he wanted to spend the rest of the year with his family after the birth of his second daughter. Swisher, 35, said he's not retiring.