PORTLAND — Thirty-five children celebrated their first day as United States citizens in typical American fashion this afternoon: They attended a baseball game.

The children were part of a pre-game honorary ceremony that celebrated their U.S. citizenship today at Hadlock Field, home of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. The children, from Congo, Germany, Philippines and Somalia, were presented certificates recognizing their citizenship, which was derived from their naturalized parents or adoption, before the Sea Dogs game with the Reading Phillies.

After the ceremony, which took place between home plate and the backstop, the children and their families stayed for the game. The children held a giant American flag during the playing of the national anthem.

“A very nice ceremony,’’ said Anita Rios Moore, a public affairs officer for the U.S., Citizenship and Immigration Services-Northeast Region. “It was just one of those things – apple pie, baseball, a real slice of Americana.’’

This is the first such ceremony held at Hadlock Field, although the USCIS has been holding naturalization ceremonies at ballparks for several years. Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers, was the site of a ceremony on July 3. Other ceremonies that day were held at Eastern League stadiums in New Britain, Conn., and Manchester, N.H., as well as at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., home to the Triple-A PawSox.

While those were actual naturalization ceremonies, attended by mostly adults, this one was meant to “recognize the children becoming citizens as well,’’ said Moore.

William J. Schneider, Maine’s attorney general, delivered a keynote address to the crowd. Jayson Hernandez, a popular catcher for the Sea Dogs, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Portland office of the USCIS had contacted the Sea Dogs the last couple of years to hold a ceremony at Hadlock Field. But “for one reason or another, logistics or dates, we just couldn’t make it work,’’ said Chris Cameron, the Sea Dogs director of media relations. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do. I just think that this is a perfect spot for kids to become an official American citizen, at a ballpark, attending America’s pastime. We’re hoping to make this an annual event.’’

The Sea Dogs provided the venue at no cost to the USCIS.

“It’s a fabulous venue, one both the new citizens can enjoy, as well as the audience,’’ said Sally Blauvelt, the Portland USIC field office director. “And it meets our mission of highlighting our naturalization and citizenship ceremonies.’’

Moore said USCIS Director Alejendro Mayorkas has attempted to move many such ceremonies out of auditoriums and courtrooms since he took the position in 2009. Other ceremonies are held at national monuments or national parks.

“This is kind unique and different than having the ceremony in an auditorium,’’ said Geoffrey Iacuessa, the executive vice president and general manager of the Sea Dogs. “We’re welcoming them to America at America’s pastime.’’

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:
[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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