Some members of the Marlins -- including manager Fredi Gonzalez, outfielder Chris Coghlan and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest -- are on a goodwill mission to Iraq, where they plan on spending time with U.S. troops over the coming week. Marlins catcher John Baker has agreed to serve as a foreign correspondent, sharing his thoughts and observations on the trip by sending occasional updates to Fish Bytes. Here's his latest as the Marlins contingent prepared to pull out of Kuwait and head into Iraq.
PICTURED ABOVE: Marlins Catcher John Baker
Wednesday January 27th
It was quite a relief to feel like we could sleep in a bit as we weren’t scheduled to check out of the hotel until 12:30. I woke up and got a double espresso at the executive lounge in the hotel, then went to the gym (I picked up a sugar free Red Bull along the way) with Chris Coghlan. Caffeine is a helluva drug. As messed up as my hours are, I have become dependent on energy drinks and double espressos to get me through the day. The problem with all the caffeine is that it becomes harder to sleep, my night sucks, and I need MORE caffeine the next day.
I actually felt great at the gym, I got in a 45 minute total body workout and felt ready to attack the day afterward. Once we checked out of the hotel, we got in the Suburbans and drove up to “The Rock” - Ali Al Salem.
The Rock is made up of basically two bases, one is an Air Force Base that ships troops up to Iraq and Afghanistan, the second is the Army Base which is also known as the LSA. The LSA at Ali Al Salem processes the soldiers that are either returning home, or entering the theater in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The Air Force base was an absolute blast, because of Fredi’s late arrival, we had to stay longer in the Country of Kuwait, so visiting this base was not on the original itinerary. We played a little shuffle board (Coghlan won..weird, I know...just like hitting) and then we met the Air Force Fireman. The guys were really cool. I spoke with one of the men from Oklahoma City for a while and told him my story about his city. It was around midnight in Oklahoma City in July of 2008 when I got called up by the Marlins to the big leagues. We shared more stories and then sat down to sign autographs and meet other service members. The Air Force is really doing something right, Col. Shock, our AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment) rep is really fun to be around, and all the members of the Air Force Fire Crew were positive, upbeat, and in excellent spirits. They seemed to make the best out of their situation and had smiles on their faces the entire time. After we signed and took some awesome photos, we went up to their Fire Station and played some catch with one member of the crew. The the other twenty-five guys helped the mermaids put on the flame-repellant fire suits, I wonder where their minds were!! I brought my Rawling’s catcher’s glove that I used last season, and the glove never made it off the base. I gave it to my friend from Oklahoma City, and he in turn gave us a patch and an Air Force hat to put it on. I hope he likes the glove, because I think that I got the better end of that deal. My hat and patch are something that will forever remind me of the people that I met today.
Our next stop was the Army Base on Ali Al Salem, and it definitely had a different vibe. This is where everyone processes that is either coming to the Middle East to entire a hostile environment, or leaving a place where they spent months fighting a faceless enemy. One solder told us a devestating story. He was an Army Infantry Men who had seen his fair share of battle on the front lines of Afghanistan. When he came to the table to get his autographed baseball card, something in the way he looked at us let us know that he had seen some terrible things firsthand. Coghlan and I both sensed this immediately and we are two pretty clueless guys. He told us that he was just processing back into Afghanistan from a fifteen day leave. He had spent his off time at home with his wife and small daughter.
---“I was in 7-11, with my wife and little kid,” he said. “And a lady approached me and asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I was an Army infantryman and that I had just returned from Afghanistan. She obviously didn’t support me or our fighting over here because the only thing she said to me was, ‘I hope that YOU get killed over there’. What do I even say to that?” ---
Cogs and I both looked at him with a blank stare, and then in our own ways intimated that WE appreciate him and everything he does for us and the United States of America. I think sometimes that people back home get so caught up in the politics that they forget about the actual people. Despite what you think about our nation’s motives for being in these conflicts, remember that real people actually put their life on the line so that you can rest your head each night in safety. I am currently typing these words in a safe bunker in Basra, Iraq. I had never realized how many things I have taken for granted until I came here and met the people willing to die for my freedom.
After the LSA, we got back into the Suburbans and drove to the Military side of Kuwait International Airport. This is when stuff really got real. Part of our processing required that we try on our helmets and bullet proof vests. The moment we put those two pieces of equipment on, the mood changed. This lasted for a few minutes, until Coghlan informed us that he thought it would be cool to get shot by a rubber bullet while wearing his body armor...Larry Beinfest didn’t think that joke was very funny. After the mood had lightened, we boarded a C-130 and flew to Basra, Iraq. This part of out trip was also amazing (I think that thought and feeling has been a recurring theme on these entries). Cogs and I sat in the Cockpit the entire flight and were on the headphones talking with the crew members. The C-130 is an older Vietnam War era plane, it has two large propellers under each wing and seems pretty maneuverable. While we were flying, we got to use night vision goggles to look out of the planes windshield at Iraq, which was straight ahead, and Iran which was directly to our three o’clock (that means to our right in cool person speak). We also got to experience a tactical approach into Basra which was totally crazy and gave me a feeling like one I’ve never experienced. We felt the force of twice our body weight pressing us into our seat during this maneuver, and Christina the Mermaid almost puked. That is pretty funny.
Once in Iraq, we drove to our little bunkered in rooms and crashed...hard.
Blackhawk takes off at 8:45 AM tomorrow.
If you want to read more about Baker and the trip, you're invited to visit his personal blog at www.johnbakerbaseball.com or follow him on Twitter at @manbearwolf. Coghlan is also updating the Iraq trip on his Twitter account: @cogz4Christ