NEW BRITAIN — The seventh-inning stretch arrived just in time Thursday night at New Britain Stadium.
Naturalization ceremonies had just concluded on DATTCO Plaza down the left field line when "God Bless America," a seventh-inning tradition during Rock Cats baseball games, burst from the public address system, welcoming a smiling group of new American citizens.
Nineteen Connecticut residents, hailing from 15 countries, recited the oath of allegiance, officially earning U.S. citizenship. The ceremony was part of an annual partnership between the Rock Cats and the local office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in celebration of the Fourth of July.
Before and after taking their oaths, the new citizens expressed pride and excitement to be full-fledged Americans in the eyes of the law.
"It means a lot," said Army Pfc. Alex Galarza Lopez, who immigrated to America from Ecuador seven years ago at age 13. "I'm serving the country [in the Army], and I wanted to fully serve the country as a citizen."
The ceremony included a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," interrupted slightly by a Rock Cats home run, as well as a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, was the night's keynote speaker.
"You persevered, just like thousands and millions before you who saw the great promise of this country," Esty said. "Our country is the country that it is because of a commitment to build a common future together."
Many of the new citizens brought family and friends, and all were treated afterward to a celebratory barbecue.
Sumit and Renee Mehra were two of the 19 to become citizens. The couple met in France years ago, moved to the U.S. and live with their daughter, Sachi, in Hamden. They always figured they would gain their citizenship side-by-side, they said.
"We came to the country together, we went through the whole [citizenship] process together," said Sumit, who was born in India. "So it was natural for us to become citizens together."
The Mehras were among several new citizens who said they were excited to be able to vote.
"She wants to vote for Hillary," Sumit Mehra said of Renee, who was born in Australia.
Karla Jacome recalled moving to America as a teenager and missing her native Ecuador. Over time, however, as she grew up, married and had American-born children, she began to identify as American and seriously consider citizenship. Jacome's son, Derek, said that as she prepared for the test given to prospective citizens his mother often asked him to quiz her.
The test wasn't easy, she said. But studying paid off for Jacome, who reflected Thursday on what drove her to apply for citizenship in the first place.
"I wanted to be part of America," she said. "I felt that this is my country."