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09/17/08 4:03 PM ET

Sox host Citizenship Day at Fenway

More than 3,000 new Americans sworn in during ceremony

BOSTON -- Former Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant remembers the feelings going through his mind 40 years ago when he became a citizen of the United States. A native of Cuba, El Tiante was a 29-year-old ballplayer when he went through the process while pitching for the Cleveland Indians.

"When I came in as an American citizen in 1969, it's a good feeling to be part of America," Tiant said. "I think that helps you, mentally in the future, that you won't have to go through any more trouble with immigration."

So when Tiant stood in the stands behind home plate on Wednesday at Fenway Park, the 19-year Major League veteran knew what was going through the minds of 3,081 new citizens of the U.S. taking part in the naturalization ceremony on Citizenship Day.

The ceremony, hosted by the Red Sox for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was presided over by Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was also part of the festivities.

Seating down the first-base line was filled with the new citizens, all holding miniature American flags that were waved on cue. Friends and family accompanying those being naturalized wrapped the seats around the right-field foul pole.

It was the first naturalization ceremony at Fenway Park. While most such ceremonies in Boston take place at various locations -- including the U.S.S. Constitution, Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church and Hynes Convention Center -- and traditionally host just 400 new citizens, this particular day was special because of its size and its location, according to Denis Riordan, district director of USCIS Boston.

"The Red Sox have an expression that [Fenway Park] is 'The Most Beloved Ballpark in America,' " Riordan said. "I think it's America's ballpark. This is the last of the grand old age. It's so much a part of Boston, and immigration has been so much a part of Boston's history.

"It's the city of immigrants. It seems perfectly fitting to hold a ceremony of naturalization here."

Riordan said the excitement generated just from being at Fenway made the afternoon more electrifying than usual. The USCIS has tried to host a ceremony at the ballpark for the past couple of years, but until Wednesday, it hadn't worked out.

It was worth the wait, according to Riordan.

"It's very symbolic and meaningful," he said. "The hope of baseball. The hope of America. The desire of people to make a better life. It's a perfect fit."

The afternoon was certainly different than when Tiant went through the ceremony four decades ago. Tiant's ceremony took place in a courthouse, where he and his new fellow citizens took their oaths and quietly became naturalized.

"I think it is a great thing for immigration and the Red Sox to let it happen here at Fenway Park," Tiant said. "Fenway Park is known throughout the world. It's a great thing."

But El Tiante, who pitched for the Sox from 1971 to 1978, made it clear that this was only the first step toward creating a strong life in America.

From here, he said these new citizens must be prepared to treat their new country with respect. The sky is the limit if they do.

"I think everyone likes to be around a good person; I don't want to be around a bad person," Tiant said. "It's about respect. Education and respect. You can go a long way if you have it. When you do those things, it can open lots of doors."

On Wednesday, the Fenway stands were filled with individuals who looked eager to follow Tiant's advice. Each year, approximately 575,000 people are naturalized into U.S. citizenship. At Fenway, people from 138 different countries were part of the ceremony.

The Dominican Republic was the most heavily represented native land with 290 people on hand. Other top countries included China, Haiti, Vietnam and Brazil.

But these new citizens came from all over, and it was a representation as diverse as the American culture. Young and old took part, as did military personnel, people relatively new to the States and those who have been in America for years.

For Sithoporn Ploysungwan, this was just the next step toward finalizing an already long life in the U.S. Ploysungwan, a Thailand native, has been in the country since first attending Worcester State College in 1973.

He's married and has worked in the country for more than 30 years, but Wednesday marked the first day he could call himself a citizen.

"It's time to move on with my life," Ploysungwan said. "I love this country, and I want to stay here for the rest of my life. So I decided to become a citizen."

Ploysungwan held the same enthusiasm Tiant spoke about. Along with more than 3,000 others, Ploysungwan, 56, took part in a unique experience of being naturalized in one of the few sports venues synonymous internationally with America.

It was a special day for many who truly realize just how special it is to be part of the United States.

"This is a great country, no matter how bad sometimes things are going," Tiant said. "We have to know that; we have to get that into our minds. No matter all the problems we have, we still have the best country."

Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.