"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Patriot Games Archives
December 25, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Not Just A Fantasy
Eighth in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
The Red Sox have been World Champions of the World for almost two months. I just keep visualizing Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling reenacting that scene from the end of Top Gun. You know… the one where Maverick and Ice Man make up and say, “You can be my wingman anytime!” Only this time, they’re on a baseball diamond in St. Louis instead of on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean. “Petey, you’re still dangerous, but you can be my Ace anytime!” “BS, Curt! You can be mine!”
Ah… if it were only that simple. As it turns out, Pedro would never offer to be the number two starter…anywhere. Oh well… all that really matters is the first sentence I wrote.
Since October, I’ve spent a lot of time realizing that other sports actually do exist. There have been plenty of other sports to follow, sometimes whether you like it or not. Mike Ferlazzo, the satin jacket hater from Long Island, jokingly got upset with himself for knowing that Ty Willingham had been fired. He prides himself in not following sports, but around here, you really can’t help it. Since sports are almost always on TV in the Dining Facility, people who never cared about basketball now know that Ron Artest is producing an R&B album and Peyton Manning has a little brother playing in New York.
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It’s comical when someone doesn’t want to watch football and attempts to change the channel to an old sitcom rerun or news program. Even if it’s a replay of a meaningless game, to turn football off is practically un-American. Sporting events, football games especially, seem to really take people home. Not only do they help pass the time, but they get people thinking about home and where they normally would be to watch these games.
And when the TV’s not on, there’s plenty of sports conversation going around. It’s hard not to know who claims the Cowboys or Eagles as their favorite team and it’s almost impossible not to know who’s in a Fantasy Football league. Fantasy Football brings us a few “home games.”
Among a group of my friends, Fantasy Football has loomed on the horizon since early August. In order to get the draft done this year, we knew it would take some effort. A live draft was out of the question. The “Reverse Cowgirls” owner worked during the day, while another owner usually flew in the middle of the night. The owner of “Kuwaiti Danish Dairy” (named after the ice cream supplier in our mess hall) was at another base, with minimal internet access. Last year ten of us got together at someone’s house with some German beer for the draft. This year, 12 of us drafted over the course of 5 days. Since no one has internet where they work, it was a constant series of word of mouth picks that the “Grumpy Old Geezers” just selected Anquan Boldin (or some other guy who’s probably out for most of the season) and it’s now “Blonde Ambition’s” pick. When someone checked the net and found that we were waiting on someone, every effort was made to track that owner down. Often, four or five of us would end up at the internet zone at the same time, talking trash and offering bogus advice to the guy trying to make his pick. For one pick, the owner of “it’s discovietnam” (no capital letters) was found in the front seat of an Apache about to launch for a mission. Since we knew he’d be gone for a couple of hours and the draft would be waiting on him, I called him from our TOC over the secure radio. As soon as he heard my voice, he knew what I wanted and offered up “Drew Bledsoe” as the first quarterback ever to be drafted from an Apache.
Of our ten league members from last year, two moved to Korea in the offseason, which made their participation difficult. All eight of the others came back to play in our aptly named “Needs of the Army” league. Adding four more here was pretty easy, since there were plenty of sports fans looking for new ways to pass the time.
Marking time as it passes is by far the most compelling reason to play fantasy football this year. The NFL season is set up brilliantly for that. Weeks are numbered and treated as proper nouns as if they’re months. When a number follows it, the word “Week” gets capitalized so that no one misses the fact that another week has passed. For Fantasy Football participants, the passing of each week means a victory or a loss and a step closer to or further away from the playoffs. Fantasy also breeds interest in just about every game of the NFL season. We get about 5 or 6 games each week on AFN and, almost always, there’s a receiver or even a kicker who’s success or failure affects your team.
Week 15 wrapped up our Playoffs and our season. The winner, “Left is Easier” was the Stop Loss Division champ and our strongest team all year. His worst-to-first turnaround was definitely aided by some extra spare time… and, of course, by the Indianapolis Colts. What’s great this year about our league is that even those that didn’t win realize that the end of the season means it’s almost time to go home.
Most of us are bigger college football fans than NFL fans, but only 5 or 6 games a week on TV makes it pretty hard to follow the action. So again, we’ve created our own action. With a Playstation game, NCAA Football, we’ve got a “Dynasty” going where six of us control different teams from one conference. The season is saved as it progresses and when you’re not playing one of the other players, you play against the computer. The season goes on with Top 25 polls and a Heisman Trophy race discussed in mock issues of Sports Illustrated. After Josh Burton took Kansas State to three consecutive Big XII titles and finally a BCS National Championship, we switched conferences to allow two new teams to start on a level playing field with the Big Ten. John Manfra returned glory to Penn State with an undefeated Big Ten Title and National Championship. A bonus for those of us not making the title games was the opportunity to rag on the few poor saps that actually were fired from their coaching jobs.
We got this idea from my friend Fish in another unit. Fish and his buddies split up some NFL teams and played seasons of John Madden Football on Playstation. They even have a bookie who establishes point spreads and over/under lines. Only the two who are playing don’t know what the spread is and the crowd roots according to their $2 or $3 bets. While I was visiting, I watched Fish win the AFC Championship among a crowd that numbered close to ten.
Our college game allows us to play for all of the traveling trophies in college football. The Big Eleven has a lot of these, from the “Old Brass Spittoon” to “Paul Bunyan’s Axe.” You can also play games outside of the “Dynasty” for any of the other traveling trophies in Division IA, such as the “Keg of Nails” and the “Jeweled Shillelagh.” We even made up some of our own trophies. When I beat my roommate, I win the “Rotten Watermelon” and we record the score on it with a marker. This watermelon was a gift from one of the Iraqi Red Sox fans from the picture posted earlier. (Don’t worry, we actually threw the watermelon away when it got rotten, but we replaced it with a replica.) When I beat Chris Visosky, I win the “Old Jar of Fatness,” a gallon sized plastic jar that holds pretzels, or Oreos, or peanuts -- whatever we have handy at the time.
Football, real or imagined, is a little piece of America that gets piped into us here. And other than some time zone issues, it arrives pretty much unchanged. As the season winds down, the NFL Playoffs and the NCAA bowl season bring new interests to follow, and for us, it marks the beginning of the end of our year in Iraq.
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November 01, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Globe Radio
Our Iraq-based Red Sox correspondent, "Andy Tollhaus" just emailed to let me know he'll be on the radio - I didn't get what station but it's the Boston Globe's radio show - with Mike Barnicle, Dan Shaughnessy and Charlie Sennott at 10:50 a.m. EST this morning.
UPDATE: 96.9 FM Boston, maybe? That's Barnicle's show.
October 30, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Wait until THIS YEAR!!!
Seventh in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
If you’re a New England farmer reading this, I have a request for you. Please go outside and check to see if your cows are still producing milk. Have you checked since Thursday morning? Check again. Just to be sure.
ESPN Radio is reporting today that the earth does seem to still be spinning on its axis. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.
I read an article a few years ago (maybe 1998 or 1999) with a preseason prediction that the Red Sox would win the World Series. The article opened with several “Armageddon-is-upon-us” scenarios, including all dairy cows in New England ceasing to produce milk. I remember thinking that there was actually a possibility that this one might come true, but, of course, we’d never know.
I didn’t use any milk, but I did do some toasting last night, with my St. Pauli’s (Non-Alcoholic) beer. It was neither the “near-beer” nor the sportsbar like appearance of “Club Boston” that made me feel as if I could be watching the game in a bar near Quincy Market. I could hear about thirty Boston accents talking about their SOX in the WORLD SERIES! Those accents all came from a group of soldiers from the 323rd Maintenance Company, an Army Reserve unit out of Devens, MA.
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One of my best friends from High School, Kevin Fischer, is in that unit. The 323rd is currently deployed to FOB Speicher, so eight years after high school, Fish and I now “live” in the same “town.” I went looking for Fish, knowing that his Mobile Maintenance Team was probably still in Mosul, helping with some maintenance at a base in Northern Iraq.
Four and a half years ago, Fish and I drove to the Bronx for a day baseball game between the Sox and the Yankees. This was only two weeks after my brother and I attended the classic Pedro-Clemens, 2-0 duel, and we were seduced by the possibility of another classic involving these two pitchers. We rendezvoused in Concord, NH at 7:30 AM, hoping that the pitching rematch would live up to the high standard that it had set for itself. Clemens left after one inning to the DL and Pedro didn’t figure in the decision, but the 2-1 Red Sox victory made it well worth the trip. This year, in 2004, I was just hoping to catch a game on TV with my long time friend. Realizing that Fish probably wouldn’t be around, I figured I’d at least be able to find some guys from New England and a good place to watch the Sox clinch the World Series!
My search for Fish and his friends first led me to a civilian contractor from North Reading, MA, wearing a Red Sox hat. As I was asking him where the New Englanders on this side of base watched the games, a Sergeant in the 323rd overheard and told me about Club Boston. Unfortunately, he also confirmed that Fish was still in Mosul.
Club Boston is a wooden building that these guys from Massachusetts built. Plain on the outside, the inside has been touched up with little bits of home. The three TVs are obviously the key to viewing the Playoffs. They’ve fashioned a bar out of plywood and 2x4’s and have procured themselves an air hockey table. There are Bruins and Red Sox t-shirts hanging on the wall and a Tom Brady poster hangs behind the bar. The soldiers had pitched in with a lot of hard work to have a place to hang out on their down time. They probably didn’t realize it as they were building, but this would be the place that many of them would finally see their beloved Red Sox win the World Series.
At 3:40 AM, when I walked into this little colony of Red Sox nation, there were about eight fans still celebrating the Johnny Damon homerun that I’d just missed. They all looked suspiciously at the newcomer until they noticed the Red Sox hat I carrying.
I was carrying the hat, instead of wearing it, because throughout the playoffs when I had it on, the Sox would start losing. When I’d take it off they’d start to come back. Early in the Yankees series, I had worn the hat too long sometimes for them to come all the way back. Needless to say, the hat hadn’t been on my head during a game since the Game 3 shellacking. We’ve all got to do our part, right?
Game 4 seemed like it was over before I even got to a TV. Only down 3-0 for most of the game, it was as if the Cardinals were never in it. It had to have been the most commanding 3-0 lead ever.
Each inning more and more Sox fans filed into Club Boston, probably maxing out around 45 people. Of course thoughts of a collapse were never too far from our minds. How could they be? Fox played every last clichéd Red Sox clip they could find. (I’ve read some people complaining about the Fox announcers, and I’ll agree that they were pretty weak. But Game 4 was the first time I got to hear the Fox announcers. MLB International was the broadcast version we got on AFN, with Dave O’Brien and Rick Sutcliffe – just plain terrible. A Cardinals fan that I watched the first three games with summed Sutcliffe up best, he’s “amazing at predicting the very recent past.”)
When all the choke clips were played in the eighth inning, the reaction was mostly defiance from the fans I was watching with. “Get your money’s worth out of that clip, now, because no one’s gonna care any more!” This year just seemed to be different. It felt like no matter how much the Cardinals threatened, the Sox would prevail. I don’t think I’ve ever had that feeling before. This Red Sox team was clearly one of destination!
As the end of the game drew near, people naturally talked about friends and family and what they were doing for the game back home. The guy sitting next to me told me how he was saving a copy of the Stars and Stripes newspaper for each of his kids. It was a bittersweet moment, not being able to finally share the Red Sox triumph with those that we’d shared so many heartbreaks with.
On the final out, Foulke’s body language served as a perfect model for Sox fans everywhere. He looked in his glove, in a bit of disbelief that the ball was there. He then started to celebrate, caught himself, and ran toward first, not sure whether he should risk throwing it all the way over to the Gold Glover waiting at first for the ball. When he finally did, there was huge rush of relief and excitement, but he still knew exactly how to react: the pitcher’s job in that situation is to go pick up the catcher in a giant bear hug! Sox fans around the world shook off their own disbelief and celebrated exactly how they knew they always would.
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October 23, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Theeeeeeeeeee…. RED SOX WIN!
Sixth in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Friday, October 22, 2004
It’s stuck in my head like a song from one of those boy bands that my Yankees fan-brother-in-law Chris loves so much. But I’ve come to embrace it, and I’m actually starting to enjoy it. Sometimes I get creative and switch things up, “Theeeee Red Sox Win!” Usually, though, I just stick to, “Theeeee Yankees Win!” Then I laugh like a little girl. It’s as if a demon has been exorcized, and now I realize that the demon was really just Casper, the Friendly Ghost. The Yankees are now cute to me. Hearing that call from now on will still make me think of Tim Wakefield on the mound at Yankee Stadium at the end of Game 7. But now that vision is from the end of Game 7, this year, when he went out to that mound as a conqueror, looked around at the half-empty stadium and exorcized some of those demons which surely weren’t cute or friendly.
For the past few days, I’ve been approached by a lot of different people, wanting to discuss either the greatest comeback or the greatest choke. It’s kind of funny, too, because a lot of them are congratulating me, as if it were me, not Alan Embree who retired Sheffield for that sweet final out. I think it’s kind of like being a proud father at your child’s wedding. You’re not the one getting married, but you sure invested a lot over the years getting to this point, and you have every right to enjoy the moment. I guess in that case, you just smile and say, “Thanks, we sure are proud.” That’s the way I feel. I am one proud Papi!
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For this special event, I had to find a special place to watch the game. Since I’d seen all three Red Sox defeats in my room (and I was at FOB Danger for the three wins), my room was out of the question. My roommate and I decided to watch it on a 42” plasma screen at a recreation center near our living area. The big screen is in a theater room set up in a building right next to the gym we have. By the time the game ended, around 7:30 AM, many had finished their morning workouts and passed by the TV, sticking around to watch history unfold. Most watched and thought the celebrations were cool. Some asked who the old guy was wearing ear plugs. But most were gone within five minutes of the single most exciting 4 to 3 put out I may ever see.
I couldn’t get enough, though. I wanted to see Ortiz win the MVP award. I wanted to see Gabe Kapler make Peter Gammons admit that he was at least a little bit excited. And I wanted to see Tim Wakefield on that mound, staring down his past.
That afternoon, the game was replayed on AFN for those who couldn’t watch in the middle of the night. The joke now was making everyone think that I was watching it for the first time. I faked anger when they “ruined it” for me, by telling me the outcome. (We get a lot of tape-delayed games over here, and a lot of times, people have avoided knowing the results, so they can watch it as if it’s live.)
When the replay of the game got into the late innings, about 15 people gathered around the TV in the middle of the TOC. Every one of them already knew the outcome. The only Red Sox fan in the room, I stood there accepting congratulations, as if a proud father, showing my child’s wedding video.
I’ve been getting a lot of support from others who aren’t here, too. These really haven’t picked up during the Series; they’ve been a constant. Agree or disagree with this war, there’s one thing that is very refreshing: everyone’s supporting our troops. That doesn’t go unnoticed. During most games I watch, the announcers make a mention of appreciation to the Armed Forces. A family friend of ours has contacted me about sponsoring some soldiers who don’t get a lot of mail. My roommate gets a care package about every other day from someone new that he doesn’t know. My cousin Fred mails me Boston Globe sports sections, for a little taste of home. And, while my internet access was more limited, my brother Jay would write the “Out of Towne Weekly Recap” for me, a very detailed summary of the Old Towne Team’s key events, starting from the very first day of Spring Training. In response to all that support, I’d like to take this opportunity, at a time when people will read anything on the internet that says “Red Sox-Yankees,” to say, “You’re welcome” and “Thank you!”
These days a lot of that support from home comes via email. Over the last couple of days, there were a lot of extended family and friends offering their views on beating the Yankees, and all of them succeeded in bringing me a little closer to home. There were a few, though that are definitely worth sharing.
The most satisfying came from my cousin Josh, the Yankees fan. “I was just wondering, is it normal to have chest pain during a game? I also went to bed with the worst headache last night. Just kind of managing to pick myself up now... Michelle and I went to Game 6, pretty disappointing. I guess we could’ve gone to Game 7, but I didn’t want to be there for what I thought was the inevitable--shows you how much confidence I had in them, huh? I didn’t have much confidence in the Yanks even entering the postseason, didn’t really think they’d get past the Twins for a second year in a row... then they go up 3-0 on the Sox, who are really a better all around team, and I was sucked in all the way again (making plans for the World Series and all). Ok, better go... I have a headache again. Go NATIONAL LEAGUE!!!!” Josh, you have so much to learn.
The most ironic email had to be from SGT Brian Pearson. It was a reply to a simple email that I sent the day before: “Game 7. Unbelievable! Can you believe this?!” I was trying to send it to CPT Brian Pearson (the Yankee fan who helped come up with the idea for this column). Since I mistyped by one letter, that allowed SGT Brian Pearson to write back, “I don’t think I know you, but I can believe it. I’m a Sox fan. How about you? GO SOX!”
Go Sox, indeed! All this talk about beating the Yankees could almost make one think it was over. As if the World Series doesn’t matter. This is just simply not the case. Beating the Yankees in the playoffs was unbelievable. The way the Sox did it was absolutely poetic. But we’ve beaten the Yankees before. Every division or A.L. Pennant that we’ve ever won was a win over the Yankees. That didn’t make the 1986 World Series fun, though, did it? For this truly to be the “the year,” this team needs to be thinking one thing and one thing only: World Series Champions.
That goes for the Clemens factor, too. I admit I was one of the many in Red Sox nation who thought it would be fitting for the Red Sox to beat Roger Clemens in the World Series. Beating Clemens would have been nice, but it would’ve been a shame to have that story line overshadowing a Red Sox World Series. Take heart in the fact that we already took a World Series lead off of Clemens, by securing homefield advantage in the All-Star Game. Manny hit a 2-run bomb off the Rocket in the only inning Roger pitched during that Clemens-Lovefest. (Incidentally enough, he then struck out A-Rod and got Giambi to ground to second, before Yankees cast-off Alfonso Soriano tacked on another home run in the inning. Karma was changing…) Just this past week, Clemens and his Astros were just good enough to take the Cardinals to seven games, keeping them from waltzing into the World Series with a perfectly aligned rotation and rested bullpen. It’s like network TV not even acknowledging the naked fan running around on the field during the Superbowl. Just let Clemens run around naked and pretend like you don’t see him.
In reality, though, the Cardinals are the opponent that Red Sox Nation should have been gunning for. You want revenge on behalf of the Red Sox and the Fenway Faithful? The Baseball Gods understand that and have lined it up perfectly. St. Louis twice beat Boston in Game 7 of the World Series. In 1946, the Red Sox finished SEVENTEEN games ahead of the Yankees, to go to the city’s first World Series in 28 years. With the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning the Sox lost in dramatic Red Sox fashion. Twenty years then passed without a World Series game involving the Red Sox. And when that drought ended in 1967, St. Louis was there again to knock off Boston in a winner-take-all seventh game. Between 1918 and 1974, those two series were the only World Series that the Red Sox would play in. Still want to beat Roger Clemens?
I don’t mean to downplay the importance of beating the Yankees, but that is only one leg of this long journey. Manny started changing our karma by homering off Clemens in Houston. It continued with Wakefield’s gutsy performance in Game 5, earning the most important win of the ALCS. And now it will culminate when two of the most traditional baseball cities host this year’s Fall Classic. Maybe it will be Dale Sveum waving home Johnny Damon as he aggressively goes from first to home on a single to centerfield in the bottom of the eighth. And maybe it will be Edgar Renteria who appears to hesitate, allowing the game winning run to score and indeed exorcizing that last demon.
LET’S GO SOX!!
"From the Far East I send you one single thought, one sole idea -- written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo -- There is no substitute for victory!"
-- General Douglas Macarthur
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October 20, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: View of the Sox-Yanks War From Iraq
Fifth in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
October 20, 2004, 3:45 AM
I just woke up for Round 14 of the Red Sox-Yankees title fight. I turned on the
It’s been a long, painful, tiring ride, just to get to this point. Not only have the games started at the ludicrous hour of 3 AM here in the Fertile Crescent, but for a while it looked as if the Yankees were just going to steamroll my beloved Sox. This series has been highly anticipated for a year, now. For the first couple of days, though, it seemed as if it was all hype.
The Division Series against the Angels was easy enough -- both for the Red Sox and for me. It started with an early, 11 PM start time and an easy Game 1 win for the good guys. I asked the company I fly with to put me on the late night/early morning schedule, so I’d be able to watch the games when I’m not flying. It backfired for me during Pedro’s 5 AM start in Game 2, though, as I drew a mission with a 6 AM takeoff time. The game was on TV during our mission planning, but it was only the 2nd or 3rd inning when we walked out to the aircraft. Of course at the same time, the Twins had taken a lead in the top half of the 12th in a classic Yankees game. As I took off for the mission I thought that the Yankees were down two games to none with their backs against a wall. The Twins’ loss didn’t really matter all that much, though, since it really was inevitable that we’d have a classic rematch between the two bitter rivals. The Yankees did their usual comeback routine with very little attention from me. In fact, I was having a hard enough time watching the Sox. After missing Game 2 for a mission, David Ortiz hit his walk-off homerun in Game 3 against the Angels while I was walking back from the bathroom. Feeling that this one was in the bag, I took my toothbrush with me to the bathroom during the pitching change so I could go right to bed when the Sox won it. Ortiz wasted no time proving me right, hitting Francisco Rodriguez’s first pitch out of the park.
The sweep gave the Sox a couple of days to get their pitching rotation in order and me a couple of days to make sure I had my sleep schedule down. Still on “deep nights,” as we call it, I’d been going to bed around 8 AM and waking up around 4 or 5 in the evening. I’d maintained this schedule for about a week by the time Game 1 rolled around, so I was primed and ready to roll.
Looking back at what could become one of the greatest series of all time, I realize that I need to record my own personal view of this bit of baseball history. As I sit here and watch Game 6, I’ll create a daily log of personal events during this series. I’ve got to warn you, though, this reflection may be as long and as rambling as the series itself.
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Tuesday October 12th
Tuesday, October 12th may mean game one to you and the history books, but to me, it was still a day away. See the games all take place after midnight Iraq time, so though my watch says Tuesday, I have to remind myself that the game is really the next day. It’s kind of like sailing back and forth across the international dateline, but different.
Around 1 AM (about 26 hours prior to the first pitch of the series), I was playing some Playstation College Football with my roommate, Josh Burton. I clapped my hands a couple times, pulled my Red Sox hat down low, and exclaimed, “Sox-Yankees, baby! This is it!” He asked what time the game started and then laughed when I told him that the series didn’t start until the next day.
Wednesday October 13th, Game 1: 3 AM start
I spent the few hours right before the game really just looking for something to do. I ended up in our “internet café,” chatting with my wife, checking my on Fantasy Football teams, and downloading pictures of Jason Varitek crushing Alex Rodriguez. I found Lieutenant Adam Heppe, from Princeton, MA, in there on eBay. As soon as he was done buying a 1999 Porsche 911 (seriously), I invited him over to watch the game.
By the time Adam showed up, it was 6-0 Yankees, but I was pretty sure this one wasn’t over. Varitek hit his homerun only seconds after Adam had commented that the Sox were always a big homerun threat and I commented that while, Varitek was 0 for 35 in Yankee Stadium this year, “now was as good of a time as any.” That cut the lead to 8-5 and Adam and I woke up Josh celebrating. When he asked what had happened, we were brought back to earth a bit when we had to tell him the score and we realized we were still down by three.
The Sox put 7 runs on the board but couldn’t pull it off. A 10-7 loss wasn’t terrible, considering it started out 8-0. Of course the injury to Schilling loomed large, but being the optimistic (naïve, maybe?) Red Sox fan that I am, I figured we’d just sub in Derek Lowe and everything would be ok.
Thursday, October 14th, Game 2: 3 AM start
An email response from my cousin Josh, a huge Yankees fan, assured me that this is going seven games. I believe him… he’s been doing this for a little bit longer than me and he is a pro baseball scout.
This night/morning, I was eating at about 1 AM in our dining facility. They serve a late night meal for people who have to fly or work in the middle of night – or watch sports. I sat with Lieutenant Mike Ferlazzo, a Long Islander who likes to speak his native Strong Island tongue out the side of his mouth. This guy’s a good friend of mine, but he’s got Yankee Fan written all over him. So of course, I invite him over to watch Game 2.
As I was hanging on every pitch from Pedro, realizing that if Pedro doesn’t beat Lieber, the Sox are in some serious trouble, all Mike wanted to talk about is how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he runs. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he catches a ball. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he throws a ball. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he swings a bat.
At some point during the game, a pitching coach went to the mound and all Mike could muster was “when’s baseball gonna do away with the satin jackets?” Yankees fans… always focused on the important details.
Then when, John Olerud poked his homerun that eventually won the game, Mike commented on how nerdy John Olerud really is. Couldn’t he see that I was concentrating? Pedro needed me to concentrate. Typical Yankees fan. It must be nice to not have to sweat each and every game.
Oh yeah, in other news… it looks like Schilling’s done for the year. Good. That’s what we need.
Friday, October 15th, No game scheduled
After flying until 6:30 AM, I had a meeting during lunch. I stayed awake for it and didn’t get to sleep until almost 4 PM. Any sleep schedule that I’d established went out the window, and I was just hoping to wake up for the 3 AM start. This was the first time I contemplated not watching that game.
Saturday, October 16th, Game 3: rained out at 3:30 AM
No game. Good. Our bullpen’s tired. I woke up at midnight and I’m tired. Smart move: just calling the game and not dragging this out or trying to start it.
Oh yeah… the only one playing any baseball today was Curt Schilling. I knew I smelled foreshadowing, but I thought that’s what the rain was all about.
Sunday, October 17th, Game 3: 3 AM start
What a sight for sore eyes! Back at Fenway, this would surely be the turning point. We were sending our best Key West Fighting Conch to the mound to face the aging and completely beatable Kevin Brown. Ah the optimism, the hope!
The reality. This turned out to be the single most painful game I’ve ever watched in my life. It seemed that the Sox could hold their own in a slugfest, but apparently they couldn’t hold their own against the Bad News Bears this week. As the game dragged on past 7 AM, I had to go to bed. I was catching a Black Hawk down to FOB Danger (on the other side of Tikrit) at noon, where I’d be working for the next couple of days.
As soon as I laid down, the Sox scored twice and almost tricked me into caring again. This one was over. The series was over. Who cares? At least I was in Iraq, where I can just turn off the TV and not have to hear about the Yankees anymore. As I turned the TV off, I realized how nice that silence was. The Sox? Who are they?
When I woke up a few hours later, I went to the TOC around 11 AM to make sure I had a flight. CPT John Manfra (a Mets fan from New Jersey) asked me if I was going to be able to watch Game 4. I told him I’d rather not watch the Yankees celebrate on the field at Fenway, and began mocking the most obnoxious call in all of sports. You know the one, “Theeeeeeeee Yankees Win! Theeeeee Yankees Win!” I think that was Rock Bottom. It was so comical, the idea of the Yankees celebrating in the Fens, that I just kept repeating that chant and it’s been “stuck in my head” ever since. It’s kind of soothing, actually, when chanted in jest.
Being down 3-0, though, wasn’t too bad. It was almost ok that we’d get swept and this would all be over. I’m in Iraq. I won’t have to hear that awful call. I can avoid sports for the next two weeks until the World Series is over.
By Sunday evening, though, my Karma started changing. I made it to an internet zone and found an Army score, learning that they added to a winning streak for the first time since my sophomore year of college. That was the same year Randy Moss hurdled an Army defensive back that was standing upright. Remember when you first heard Randy Moss’s name? That’s the last time Army won two games in a row.
I also got to watch the Patriots continue their winning streak against the Seahawks. The Pats had won 20 in a row, Army won two in a row and the Yankees were about to win their fourth in a row. I was not getting up at 3 AM for that.
Monday, October 18th, Game 4: 3 AM start
I was hoping to wake up Monday morning and have found that the Sox died peacefully in my sleep. Instead I woke up to Johnny Damon walking in the bottom of the 11th. At the house that I was staying in at FOB Danger, on the other side of Tikrit, there were three pretty big Red Sox fans. All of us had the same reaction, when we saw that the game was still on in the morning, “C’mon, don’t drag this out.” Since my ride to breakfast and then work was leaving, I found out the Sox won by watching Sportscenter in the Dining Facility.
In case I wasn’t aware that the series record was still 3-1 Yankees, the office in which I’d be working, came complete with a couple of Yankees fans. It didn’t take long for the conversations to shift to the Sox-Yankees series. I had no fight in me. To be honest, at this point, I just didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to admit that with Pedro and Schilling pitching the next two games I felt like we had a chance.
Tuesday, October 19th, Game 5: 12 AM start
FOB Danger is one of Saddam’s old palace complexes on the Tigris River in Tikrit. We’ve turned it into a pretty impressive base, now. The main palace is really amazing. Surrounding the main palace is a small city of smaller palaces and houses that must have housed Saddam’s guards and all the people that were required for upkeep. This walled in base is pretty unique. Some people live in palaces along the river and others live in smaller houses.
The house I’m staying in is the home to about 15 people on the Operational Law Team. There are four bedrooms and a big living room in the middle where they have some couches and a TV set up with AFN satellite. I really lucked out in this temporary lodging, because finding a place to watch the games in the middle of the night isn’t always easy.
There’s even a phone in the living room, so for a few minutes, early Tuesday morning, I was able to talk to my wife on the phone and watch the game. It’s not quite the same as watching it together in our own home, but it was nice, none the less.
This was not a game I was going to miss. Especially since it only started at midnight and any rational person would probably figure that I could watch it and then get some sleep afterward. Similar to the Sox bullpen, my sleep schedule was completely shaken up. I got to bed about 9 PM and woke up at 1230 AM to a 2-1 Red Sox lead with Pedro on the hill. This was it. Pedro had the chance to redeem himself from last year’s disaster.
I sat in the living room watching this marathon of a game. At different points throughout the six hour game, people came in from a guard detail, woke up for PT (physical training – running and working out as a unit), and got up to get ready for work. All of these people passed through the living room, checking in casually with the game.
SFC Nebelkopf, a Sox fan from Dartmouth, MA, stayed and watched the last 4 innings with me, wearing his Superbowl XXVI Champions t-shirt. He’d missed the first 10 innings because he worked until 11 PM, only an hour before the first pitch and he was still pretty worn down from getting up in the middle of the night to watch the first three games.
Neither of us felt the least bit tired at 6:13 AM, though, when David Ortiz came to bat in the 14th with Johnny Damon on second. For six innings, now, this game had remained in a precarious tie which was bound to broken soon. When Big Papi had his second walk-off hit in less than 24 hours there was no “acting like you’d been there before.” So much for going back to bed after this one. By the time all of our celebrating and post game analysis was done, it was 6:30 AM.
The rest of my day was filled with Yankees fans quoting stats to me about the number of series in which a team’s gone down 3-0 and not come back to win it. And all day long I explained to them that it’s no longer about coming back from 3-0, it’s about coming back from 3-2. Oh yeah, and Curt Schilling is pitching Game 6. I’m so sick of Yankees fans telling me… wait, I’ll just stop at Yankees fans. I’m so sick of Yankees fans. But this is what the rivalry is all about.
Wednesday, October 20th, Game 6: 3 AM start
When my alarm went off at 3:15, I had a hell of a time getting out of bed. The part of me that wanted to sleep was trying to convince the Red Sox fan part of me that they were just going to lose and it wouldn’t be worth it. For close to thirty minutes, I wrestled my alarm clock and had weird dreams about what that beeping was until finally a sane thought shattered my drowsiness: Schilling’s pitching Game 6!
When I saw Schilling pitching, a calm came over me. He looked great. This was perfect. SFC Nebelkopf joined me in the fifth inning with the Sox leading 4-0. As we watched the game, the four run lead seemed so fragile. Had we seen this before? We wondered who’d come out of the bullpen if needed and how Francona would find a way to mess this up. Of course, when Schilling came out after 7 innings, we second guessed the manager, but still felt strangely confident. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
By the time the Police were lining the field in riot gear, there were four or five interested viewers at any one time. Some just paused long enough to sit and put their combat boots on, as they headed out the door to work, but many got hooked and if they couldn’t stay and watch, they’d return after shaving or getting dressed.
In the bottom of the ninth, though, it was just me, SFC Nebelkopf, and Major Hayden, a Sox fan from Springfield, MA. We were the only ones still around to watch Foulke strike out Tony Clark. With the final out and assurance of a Game 7, there was at first an overwhelming feeling of joy. That was quickly put in check by a strange sense calm and accomplishment.
Sox fans are weird like that. It’s not that I’m satisfied just to get to a Game 7. And it’s not so much that I expect the Sox to blow Game 7 tonight (or early tomorrow morning, depending on which side of the International Date Line you’re sailing). But if they do, I’ll have to wonder, what if the Sox had died peacefully in my sleep on Sunday night? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Damn them for sucking me back in.
As MAJ Hayden pointed out last night, though, we never start talking about “next year being our year,” until the end of the season. So, by that reasoning, this is still could be Our Year.
LET’S GO SOX!
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:00 AM | Baseball 2004 | Patriot Games | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
October 07, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Getting (Almost) Away From It All
Fourth in a series of reflections by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
July 20, 2004
Taking a break from war is an idea that has been around for thousands of years. Along with warfare, this concept has evolved with society and technology. Back in the day, the Romans would allow their armies to rape and pillage captured enemy cities as a way to blow off some steam. In the latter stages of World War II, soldiers in units relieved from the front lines were often allowed passes to Paris. During the Vietnam conflict, a certain amount of time in country would pay dividends with a rest and recuperation trip to places ranging from Saigon to Australia to Hawaii. The R&R program here in Iraq is as different from those R&R programs as this war is different from those past wars.
The program here affords soldiers the opportunity to take 15 days of leave from the war that they’ve been surrounded by for the past several months. It’s a way to relax, recuperate and recharge the batteries. It’s an awesome experience to get to go, but it certainly doesn’t mark the end of the war, not even for that one individual.
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Tuesday’s All Star Game was the only game that we hoped to watch in a bar, being this close to the Southernmost Point. We went to the famous Duval Street to find a place to eat, drink and watch baseball – is there anything else? After sampling some of the Happy Hours near the historic marina, we couldn’t find a suitable place. So, we hailed a signature Key West pink taxi cab and asked the cabbie for advice. The license plate didn’t say “Fresh,” and there weren’t dice in the mirror, but we did think to ourselves that this cab was rare. This cabbie, from Andover, MA, played baseball at Boston College and told us of his AAA career for the Baltimore Orioles and his one and only at bat in the Bigs – against Nolan Ryan. Not sure who was happier, the advisor or the advisees, but off to the Green Parrot it was. As I ordered our first beers, two guys at the bar pointed to my Milwaukee County Stadium Sausage Race T-shirt and said, “Hey, watch out for Randall Simon!” This was, no doubt, the place to watch the game.
Sarah and I sat down at the bar next to the other Sausage Race fans. We watched Piazza tip Clemens’s pitches to the American League sluggers and watched Manny and Ortiz hit their homeruns. The bartender from the south-side of Chicago laughed when we asked for umbrellas in our beers so we could blend in with the locals. He then educated me on the fact that his Sox were in a longer World Series drought than were our Sox. I didn’t believe him, but luckily enough, my brother-in-law was awake at 11:45 PM, standing by on Google for me. After hanging up the phone and conceding that the bartender was, indeed, correct, I did what any honorable man would do – I bought him a beer. There was a Mariners fan there who resented the Red Sox because of trades involving Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Heathcliffe Slocumb. We also talked about the Key West High School baseball team and their contributions to the Major Leagues. To my surprise, Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo was a Fighting Conch alum. I couldn’t figure how I could be so lucky to have taken my wife to two games and now be sitting at the Green Parrot with her, watching baseball.
As I stared straight ahead, I noticed that I was staring at a bottle of Tullamore Dew, Irish Whiskey. I hate whiskey, but for some reason, ordering a shot of whiskey seemed to be fitting right then. The fact that my shot was the last in the bottle seemed like it meant something, too. In reality, though, I drank that shot of whiskey not to make a point or honor anyone or anything poetic like that. I am pretty certain, however, that when I do see Tullamore Dew in the future, there will be a link to that moment and I’ll be reminded of those who died too young in Samarra, Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else where the ultimate sacrifice has been “laid on the altar of freedom.” I don’t think I’ll make a big deal of it, but I know I’ll close my eyes, as I did then, during the All Star game, and say a quick prayer for those who won’t be coming home to pick up their life right where they’d left it.
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October 05, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Gunfighter Day
Third in a continuing series by our Iraq correspondent, blogging under the pseudonym Andy Tollhaus.
May 13, 2004
What Gunfighter Day lacked in facilities, it made up for with spirit. Gunfighter Day was an event that we planned to take a break and let our closely cropped hair down. We picked the 11th simply because we are 1-1 Aviation (read aloud “one-one-Aviation”). We’re the Gunfighters, so the name was an easy choice, too. On Gunfighter day, the battalion continued to employ our Apache helicopters to support the First Infantry Division, but the command recommended that companies work with the minimal personnel necessary to accomplish the mission. Tasks that weren’t time critical were put off for a day and efforts were made to involve as many Gunfighters as possible.
Those of us losing early in the 3-on-3 double elimination basketball tournament were spared the worst of the heat and were free to enjoy the other activities. Along with 3-on-3 basketball, tournaments were held for horseshoes, dominoes, darts, ping-pong, scrabble, spades and video game Halo. Chief Warrant Officer (CW4) Marty Calkins, hailing from USC and Raider Nation, was the DJ with his MP3 Player and the chaplain’s PA system. We arranged to have our lunch served outside with coolers full of sodas and Gatorade. It all had the feel of a large church picnic or summer barbecue, except we all wore uniforms and carried weapons with us.
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All of these activities were held in and around a former Iraqi Air Force concrete hangar/bunker. Since we live and work on the former Iraqi Al Sahra airfield, we “inherited” several of these massive bunkers, designed to protect Saddam’s aircraft from the numerous enemies that the former regime faced. We use some of these facilities for aircraft maintenance and some for vehicle maintenance. This one, though, is designated for our Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facility. Inside this hangar, we’ve built two rooms, one serving as our “internet café” and one serving as a multi-function room, where we hold our church services and other meetings.
For many, the highlight of the day was the entry into the basketball tournament of our three top ranking Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs or in a word, Sergeants). Even though, they’d combined for close to 70 years of Army experience, they couldn’t manage a victory. Their team, “Old School”, consisting of our Command Sergeant Major and two of our First Sergeants, was edged out in the first round, but not before a lot of whining and dirty play.
Three guys not relying on dirty tricks were Sergeant First Class Hughes, Specialist (SPC) Shawn Williams and Corporal (CPL) Maurice Looper, all from our Fuel and Ammunition platoon. These three “co-workers,” who made up the “Ankle Breakers,” had been the team to beat from the moment we planned a tournament. Looper, 25, a High School sprinter in South Carolina before joining the Army six years ago, is the bruiser on the team. Williams, 27, who played on Allen Iverson’s High School basketball team in Virginia, provides the spark on the team -- liable to get the hot hand at any moment. Hughes, 34, who helped construct the court, is the Platoon Sergeant and therefore responsible for these guys off the court. He’s the guy who sets the tempo for the team on the court as well. Hughes joined the Army when he was only 17 having never really played organized sports. Once in the Army, he started playing on unit level basketball and flag football teams. He’s moved to refereeing now and his post-Army aspirations include working a Division 1A basketball game. These three guys had only played together a handful of times, but knew each other well from working together in a demanding job on a daily basis.
As much as the “Ankle Breakers” were the favorites, the “Hotshots” were the favorite to be the spoiler. SPC Alfred Bonilla, 28, grew up in the Philippines and Hawaii, and has only been in the Army for about a year. His sporting career started at age six with his father and grandfather teaching him Tae Kwon Doe. In High School, he played on the runner up team at the State Volleyball Championships in Hawaii and played in college for two seasons. PFC Lawrence Waller is 21 and hails from a small town near Richmond, VA. He joined the Army after passing on a football scholarship and is constantly working out, trying to put on enough size to play NFL Europe when our unit returns home to Germany. The third member of the Hotshots team was SPC Leon Harrison, who works with our Motor Pool, conducting vehicle maintenance in one of our massive hangars. Harrison grew up in Chicago, playing football and basketball in the street. He’s a huge Michael Jordan fan, but appreciates Dr. J even more because, as he says, “someone had to inspire the greatest.” Harrison, 21, played football for the Northern Illinois Huskies for a year, before joining the Army.
By the time of this rematch the other contests were just about all wrapped up. Marty, the DJ, was starting his 6th hour of music as the game started. The “Hotshots” won a quick 15-9 victory forcing a winner-take-all final. This was for all the marbles. Or at least some $10 prizes that we’d scrounged together for the winners of these tournaments. Some items to choose from were large extra-large fans, Operation Iraqi Freedom T-Shirts or “Three Pack -- Thrill Packs” of FHM, Maxim and Stuff magazines.
The final game was actually kind of anti-climatic. The “Ankle Breakers” regrouped and beat the underdogs easily. But it wasn’t really about the winner or the loser of the final game, anyway. The tournament was just for fun, and everyone knew that.
At the conclusion of the day, we held a battalion formation on the basketball court and awarded some deserving individuals medals that they’d earned. These awards were given for a wide range of efforts. SPC Bonilla and PFC Waller (cooks on the “Hotshots”) received awards for making the holiday meals of the past Thanksgiving and Christmas something to celebrate back in Katterbach, Germany. Some others received higher awards for exposing themselves to hostile fire in order to kill enemy forces when our convoy came under fire on our first day in Iraq. Our Brigade Commander was invited to award these medals. He spoke to us about the importance of these events and the fact that we’d passed the three month, or one-quarter, mark on the deployment. After his comments, our Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Dave Moore (a lefty outfielder and first baseman for the vaunted West Point baseball team of the early ‘80s) made some more informal presentations. LTC Moore gave some framed Gunfighter posters to several of our civilian support agencies and then our $10 prizes to the victors of our various Gunfighter Day activities.
As it turned out the crude facilities weren’t even noticed. The fact is these facilities are better than they were on April 11th, and on June 11th they’ll be even better. I wonder what Saddam Hussein would think if he ever saw his facilities in this state.
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September 18, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: Winning Hearts and Minds, If Not Championships
From our correspondent in Iraq:
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September 17, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: The Early Show
The second in a periodic series by guest blogger and Army officer "Andy Tollhaus" on watching sports from Iraq.
April 23, 2004
I hate getting out of bed in the morning. And, I’m terrible at it. (My mother told me just yesterday how glad she was that she wasn’t the one that had to get me out of bed anymore.) I’m liable to hit snooze for over two hours without realizing it and then spring out of bed cussing, but still late. So, when I set my alarm for 5 AM on the day that I was switching from a day shift to a night shift I felt like there was no way in hell that I was getting up for the first Red Sox-Yankees game of the year. The game would start at 4, so the 5 o’clock wake up should get me to a TV for the start of the 5th inning. As I woke up around 5:20 and walked to the bathroom, I wondered how the game was going, and figured that it would have to go on without me, because I was still tired and could get about 6 more hours of much needed sleep if I just resigned myself to check the box score online later. On my way back from the bathroom, I snuck into the “living container” next door, quietly turning on the television to check the score. The four sleeping occupants in the 20 foot by 10 foot “room,” which is basically a shipping container with electricity and air conditioning, had achieved success in setting up their AFN satellite, while I had achieved only frustration. It was the top half of the 6th and the Sox were up 5-2. Instantly I was awake. I think it was just the sight of Fenway Park…but it could have been the fact that the Sox were winning…and it definitely had something to do with them beating the Yankees. Whatever it was, I was ready. Forget all that talk 6 months ago (to the day, as the media loved pointing out) about swearing off the Red Sox for good. I turned the TV off and went back to my room to get dressed (body armor, weapon, and helmet, all part of the required uniform) so I could walk the 500 meters or so to the Battalion TOC (Tactical Operations Center) to watch the rest of the game.
As I sat down at one of the tables in the TOC, I nodded hello to my roommate Pov Strazdas (another friend from West Point). Pov’s a die-hard Raiders fan who, thanks to Wayne Gretzky and the LA Kings, is also as knowledgeable of a hockey fan as any that I’ve known from “SoCal.” In the TOC there’s always a certain level of activity that naturally goes along with running an Apache Battalion, but there’s also a television there, mostly for news. During the night shift the TV usually ends up showing one sport or another. Watching sports is usually more uplifting than watching the same news over and over of the country that you’re fighting in. Pov had been keeping me up to date on the NHL playoffs - since I wasn’t willing to get out of bed that early for anyone other than the Bruins and it seemed that AFN couldn’t bear to air that atrocious collapse against Les Habitants. By the time I finished reflecting on Pov’s hockey fan-dom, the Bruins’ collapse, and why we’re watching sports in a Battalion Headquarters in Iraq, the bases were full of Yankees in the top of the 8th. As you should already know (if you don’t, do pushups until I get tired, as Pov likes to say) we held on to win. The new season was here. The Sox. The Yankees. Fenway Park. Live, in Iraq. Unreal.
Halfway around the world, the feeling was the same. The start of a new baseball season signifies spring and new life. Memorial Day and the Red, White and Blue unofficial start of summer will soon be upon us. Granted summer in Iraq isn’t quite the time of year that we’ve all been hoping for, but it doesn’t get much more Red, White and Blue than watching our National Pastime in a combat zone. I had a new-found energy and wasn’t supposed to be at work for another 6 hours. Seeing Fenway had taken it from a daily check of the box scores to an old, familiar experience.
By now the battalion was waking up. Day shifts were coming on and Pov and the rest of those “on nights” were praying that their A/C’s were still working so sleep could be found in the midst of all that heat. For now, though, the channel still lingered on sports and the Giants-Dodgers game was just starting exactly 11 time zones away. I watched just long enough to see Barry Bonds’ pop up weakly to third. I then took my new-found energy off to renew my efforts in fixing my dish. I hired a local man who does some work around post and some magic on satellite dishes. By the time ESPNNews was leading off the half-hour with Sox highlights over and over again I was watching it in my own room. Nothing better than watching the highlights of a game that you just watched. Except, of course, watching highlights in Iraq of a game that you just watched in Iraq.
A week later, on the next of many exciting Friday nights in Iraq, I’m sitting here anticipating the next Red Sox - Yankees series, starting in about 4 hours. On AFN, the Cubbies are about to start a day game against that other New York team. It looks like a beautiful day for baseball in Chicago. I think I’ll leave the TV on as I fall asleep (it is 11 PM here, and I do have to get up at a reasonable hour tomorrow). Maybe if Mr. Cub can convince them to play two, they’ll still be playing in the morning. That would make getting out of bed a little bit easier.
September 15, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: A Sports Diary From Iraq
I am pleased and honored to introduce a new recurring guest columnist. He's currently serving in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division and will be blogging here under the pseudonym "Andy Tollhaus". Lacking a better title for the series, I'll be filing his dispatches under the heading "Patriot Games." Here's the first column, written back in February. Enjoy.
February 14, 2004
Two years ago, I had a great idea. After two fruitless years of waiting for another, I’m sitting in Kuwait writing this letter. I moved (PSC’d in Army lingo) to Germany in February of 2002, still picking red, white, and blue confetti out of my hair from the greatest Superbowl of my generation. During the NCAA basketball tourney that year, at about 4 AM Central European Time, my friend Brian and I talked about how different it was to be an avid sports fan serving in the Army. How different it is to miss an entire week of the NFL and NCAA Football because you’re in the field and don’t even get to watch the little helmets move across the screen on your ESPN Gametracker. How it’s different to miss the entire middle portion of the Major League Baseball season because you’re spending 6 weeks in Hungary being out on what Army movies call “maneuvers.” How it’s different to set your alarm for 3 AM to catch the 2nd and 3rd period of an NHL playoff game, one friend from New Hampshire wearing a Bruins hat and one from Michigan wearing a Red Wings Jersey.
This year watching the true America’s Team in the Superbowl had an entirely different feel to it. (Just for the record, how can the Pats not be America’s Team?! The Patriots. Red, White and Blue! What more do you want? Three Point Pat probably scored himself a couple of those cricket loving Red Coats back in Lexington, for all we know. Think about it. America gets to choose who America’s Team is, not Jerry Jones! But I digress…) The difference I felt in the Superbowl experience wasn’t just that it was only the second greatest Superbowl of my generation. And it went way beyond the obvious location and crowd: Germany with my new bride, Sarah, and some friends, as opposed to the Superdome with my brother, Jay and one of his “Army buddies.” That early Monday morning, there was a cloud hanging over our heads. Within 48 hours of the end of the game, I’d be saying goodbye to Sarah for a year while I deployed with the Big Red One (1st Infantry Division) to Iraq.
Sure the game was exciting, but everyone in the room was more concerned with what they had or hadn’t packed, what the conditions would be like and how hard it would be to say goodbye to normal life for a year. It didn’t even matter that most of us had money on the game (or some tiny detail in the game thanks to the brilliance of Internet gambling).
Two years ago Brian Pearson and I (roommates and Team Handball teammates at West Point until 2000) had the idea to write a column about being a sports fanatic serving in the Army in Europe. We wanted to write about the six hour time difference and how you could tell who the true fans were when you were watching the West Coast baseball games which often were still going when we went in for PT (physical training) at 6:30 in the morning. We wanted to write about going to see what the locals raved about at the Bayern Munich soccer game (which turns out has the same feel as big time college football, but no high-fiving). We would write the column from the perspective of a die-hard Red Sox fan and some Johnny-come-lately Yankees fan (just kidding Brian) and talk about how important sports were to those of us who are stationed abroad.
Now I finally feel that my story would be worth reading. It will be a journal of some sort. The articles will tell the story of a year spent away from home with a group of people of varying sports loyalties and interests. Looking back, sports events will serve as landmarks in our year long story that brought us closer together and helped take our mind off of that ever so slowly approaching day of homecoming. Even if no one cares about how we watch the NCAA tournament or who wins our Fantasy Football Leagues, the “columns” will serve as a nice collection of memories for me when I look back on what will no doubt be the most interesting year of my life so far.
Trust me, I’d much rather be writing that not-quite-as-interesting journal from Europe about Sarah and me finding an Internet phone booth in Glasgow, Scotland at one in the morning to watch the Don Zimmer icon charge the Pedro Martinez icon on the new ESPN Brawl–trackertm. It’d be more fun telling stories about Sarah and I watching the Red Sox almost “Cowboying Up” all the way to the World Series wearing our “O’Neill Sucks” t-shirts and trying to determine if that distinct “crack” sound at 6:14 AM came from Aaron “insert expletive here” Boone’s bat or my wife’s heart. It’d be cooler to write about the excitement I felt when I learned that my younger sister Susan, serving with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Al Asad, Iraq at the time, had earned an R&R leave slot during the World Series. Since our Iraq tours would overlap (missing each other by less than a week as we pass through Kuwait heading in opposite directions), Sarah and I had scheduled leave to go home and visit Susan last October -- the fact that the Sox were looking like World Series participants being an added bonus. (Incidentally, Susan took the opportunity to fly to South Bend to join a group of her college friends hoping to witness their alma mater beat Florida State. Well, that was last year. The Sox were not World Series participants, the Seminoles beat Notre Dame 37-0 and I never got around to writing anything. This year, though, is a brand new ballgame.
I’ll update as often as possible, at least when interesting things happen: the NCAA tourney, the NHL Playoffs, the Fantasy Baseball Draft, and, of course, the Army-Navy game. I’ll also make a point to write some entries strictly to introduce the readers to the people here, telling their sports fan biography.
I am a Captain in an Apache Battalion currently in Kuwait, moving north to Iraq, within two weeks. I’ve discussed the idea with my chain of command, and my battalion commander thinks it would be a unique way to pass information home and allow family members and friends to understand the daily life that is so hard to explain. Hopefully this turns into a regular thing, giving me one more way that sports will help pass the time.