Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
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.