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
FOB Speicher, Iraq

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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Seventh in a series of reflections on sports by “Andy Tollhaus,” an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
FOB Speicher, Iraq

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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Sixth in a series of reflections on sports by “Andy Tollhaus,” an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Friday, October 22, 2004
FOB Speicher, Iraq

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!

Continue reading PATRIOT GAMES: Theeeeeeeeeee�. RED SOX WIN!

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
FOB Danger
Tikrit, Iraq

I just woke up for Round 14 of the Red Sox-Yankees title fight. I turned on the
TV to find a very comforting image: a close up of Curt Schilling peering in over
his glove with the score across the top showing 0-0 in the 2nd. With all the emotions just conjured up, it�s hard to remind yourself that the Sox are actually trailing in the series two games to three.
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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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
Delta Flight # 5986,
38,000 feet above the Atlantic,
A few hundred miles west of Tullamore, Ireland

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.
I was lucky enough to get my break from Iraq from the 5th to the 19th of July. My wife was able to join me and we decided to split our time between New Orleans and Key West. Sarah joining me for the 15 days was above and beyond any other benefit that two of America�s most unique and enjoyable cities could offer. Coming in the middle of summer, we were in that wonderful period on the sports calendar where baseball is the focus. Sure, the football previews are starting to hit newsstands, but it�s really just about baseball. There are about 15 Major League games a day to watch or read about. The pennant races are heating up and the trade deadline is fast approaching. Sarah and I attended a AAA New Orleans Zephyrs game, where I taught her the art of keeping score. At the game a young Louisiana National Guard soldier was honored for her service in Iraq and allowed to throw out the first pitch. On our way to the Keys, we stopped at a Marlins-Mets game and crossed stadium number 21 off of my list. (Of course, I�ll have to go back to all but the four stadiums that my wife and I visited together, but those are the sacrifices that one makes for love.)

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PATRIOT GAMES: Gunfighter Day

Third in a continuing series by our Iraq correspondent, blogging under the pseudonym Andy Tollhaus.
May 13, 2004
Camp Speicher, Iraq

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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The second in a periodic series by guest blogger and Army officer “Andy Tollhaus” on watching sports from Iraq.
April 23, 2004
Camp Speicher, Iraq

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.

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
Camp Udairi, Kuwait

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.
Andy Tollhaus