Marlins with military ties look forward to 'perfect weekend' at Fort Bragg

Crews prepare Fort Bragg Field for Sunday's game between the Braves and Marlins. Gerry Melendez for ESPN

DETROIT -- Miami Marlins pitcher Mike Dunn visited Fort Bragg three years ago during the MLB and FOX Sports' Spring Training to the Troops tour. He came back blown away by the experience.

He was there for four days to tour the facilities, meet with U.S. servicemen and women, and to partake in physical training. The latter part was a bit daunting. His first day, Dunn was put up front with one of the group leaders for a three-mile run. Despite Dunn's training as a professional baseball player, he couldn't remember the last time he'd gone on a three-mile run, especially under that sort of pressure. He assumed he was going to fall behind and get passed by quite a few people.

What he hadn't counted on was actually enjoying the trek, feeling inspired as he was surrounded by a gauntlet of service members and hearing their chants.

"It gave me a different outlook on it, how excited they were to see us. I felt like going into it, it was like the reverse. We were all excited to go have the time to be able to spend the time with them, because they're the ones that sacrifice their lives for us, and how excited they were for us to be there, it was a mutual thing," Dunn told ESPN.com. "I've always been an avid supporter of the troops, but after that trip it made me want to do even more, as much as I can."

That's why Dunn is looking forward to returning to the revered North Carolina institution for Sunday's game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) against the Atlanta Braves in what will be the first professional sporting event played at a U.S. military base.

"It means a lot to everybody, it being the first professional event being held for our service men and women, I think it's going to be great," Dunn said. "Especially when, you know, that's pretty much all that's going to be in the stands. Our servicemen and women are going to be there to watch baseball, America's pastime. I think it's going to be an awesome experience."

Having that chance to give back to the men and women who serve means something extra special to a few of the Marlins. Outfielder Christian Yelich has a 20-year-old brother in the Marines. His brother is stationed in Hawaii, and though the two get to spend about only 10 days together a year, they keep in touch and text regularly.

Yelich says he understands the daily sacrifices made by his brother, and all of those with whom he serves.

"Those guys, they make a ton of sacrifices for us that allow us to live the lives we do and play this game. We owe them a lot. We get to go there and play for them, for one night, and it's going to be really special, especially Fourth of July weekend," Yelich said.

Infielder Justin Bour, who grew up in the D.C. suburb of Centreville, Virginia, also comes from a family with a strong service history. His grandfather was in the Army and his father was in the Secret Service.

"I obviously have a respect for people that do what they do, keep people safe, and to allow me to be doing what I do now. Obviously it’s going to be a cool experience, and I'm going to try to get the most out of it," Bour said.

Bour's father first worked in the transportation division and then the presidential detail, working for President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. Yes, that means Justin got to visit the White House as a kid and can even count a signed baseball from Clinton as a souvenir, though the memory that stands out the most is the terrible haircut he had for his visit.

"It was bad, whatever it was," Bour said.

Bour says he's looking forward to the trip, and the fact that the game will take place during Independence Day weekend makes the visit even more appropriate.

"Perfect weekend," he said.