10/23/2002 12:04 pm ET
Ensch, Pads dedicated to military
By Sandy Burgin / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- Fleet Week in San Diego actually lasts a month, but the San Diego Padres' support of the military is a year-round operation.
The Padres provide more programs for the military than any other team in
Major League Baseball and more than any other professional sports franchise
in the country.
Here are just a few of some of the programs the Padres sponsor:
During Fleet Week, the Padres sponsor a table at the following events: Enlisted Recognition Luncheon, Navy Ball and Fleet Week Ball. They also support the Fleet Week Golf Tournament, giving the equivalent of more than $25,000 of sponsorship support.
The Padres are the only team that hosts a special Military Home Opener each year, with half-price Morale, Welfare and Recreation vouchers available at MWR ticket offices.
The Padres sponsor an annual "Padres Salute to Veterans" game with the opportunity for veterans groups to sell tickets with a fundraising program to make money for their local veterans' projects.
The "Padres at Sea" program provides videotapes of all Padres, Cox 4 televised games to deployed San Diego area Battle Group and Amphibious Ready Group units. The tapes are mailed to the deployed units after every home or away series.
During the 2000 season, the Padres awarded lifetime passes for regular-season games to all Southern California World War II and Korean War prisoners of war. They were the first Major League team to initiate this ongoing project.
As a visible salute to the military that began in 2000, players have worn camouflage uniform jerseys and special caps to play the Military Opening Game. In 2002, the camouflage uniforms were worn for Opening Day and for Military Opening Day games. The team is planning to make the wearing of these jerseys a yearly tradition.
The Padres are the only team with a full-time Military Marketing Department, which is dedicated to military programs and liaison.
The person behind that department is retired Captain John C. "Jack" Ensch of the United States Navy. Ensch has been
with the Padres for seven years. Michelle Vasquez had served as an assistant for the past four years, but she recently moved to Texas.
Ensch joined the Padres as Director of Military Marketing in 1995 after he had retired from the U.S. Navy.
Ensch flew 285 combat missions in Vietnam and was credited with shooting down two Mig-17 enemy aircraft. He was himself shot down by a surface-to-air missile over North Vietnam in 1972 and became a POW.
A decorated naval aviator, Ensch accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours and more than 800 carrier landings in F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat fighters. He was awarded the Navy Cross, Legion of Merit (three awards), Bronze Star with Combat V (two awards), Purple Heart (two awards), Meritorious Service Medal (three
awards), Prisoner of War Medal and Combat Action Ribbon. He also has received several other individual, unit and service awards.
Though Ensch didn't join the team until after San Diego's military department was formed, an idea originated by the Padres in 1994, he knows all about how it was started.
"When John Moores bought the team, along with Larry Lucchino, in December of 1994 and took over and looked at the demographics of the area, they saw what a large presence the military has here in San Diego," Ensch said, who was initially approached by the Padres while still on active duty. "The military in San Diego is the largest presence of military anywhere in the country -- and probably in the world. [Then] they realized that it was a big portion of our potential fan market.
"I was approached while I was on active duty and asked if I would like to come on board and try to resuscitate the military interest in the Padres. Quite frankly, the other past ownerships have not done that much to cultivate the military. They had some ticket programs. I agreed that
after I retired I would come and talk with them. In November of 1995 I came on board and starting building the programs that we have today.
Since then, Ensch and the Padres have expanded the program significantly.
"We do more for the military than any sports team in the country. It's not all about selling tickets," he said. "It's support for the community. Included in that is the "Welcome Home" program, where every ship that has been deployed for six months comes back. We have them out for a game on us as a
way of showing them, 'Thanks for your service.' And their dependents come with them at a discount price, so we have the whole unit out.
"And for every San Diego military unit that deploys for six months or more, ship squadrons, Marines, companies, regiments ... we serve them.
"That is something that John Moores actually instituted. I was doing this on a small basis, and John asked, 'Why are we limiting it to just 10 percent?' And with that, we started doing every unit."
At almost every Sunday home game, the Padres host the uniform-clad graduating recruit class from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. Each week, 400 to 700 recruits are in the stands.
"Trevor Hoffman's father was a former Marine who fought at Iwo Jima," Ensch said. "Trevor and his wife, Tracy, for years have supported that by giving a $5 certificate [to the recruits] to buy food and drinks at the stadium. This past year, the Hoffmans wanted to go beyond the recruits. We have had families come out -- the children and wives and dependents of Marines who are deployed.
"Trevor wanted to direct it more into the families instead of just the single recruits, so we've got more programs going on like that."
Many teams market to specific groups, but with San Diego being the military town that it is, this embrace of the military simply makes sense.
"The things ownership lets us do on behalf of the military in San Diego is remarkable, I think. We're the only team in baseball or in any Major League sport that I know of that has a dedicated military department."
Sandy Burgin covers the Padres for MLB.com and can be reached at Sandyburgin@hotmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.