01/26/10 5:00 PM EST
Kuwait is first stop on Marlins' troops visit
Team meets with military personnel, Little League program
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
As part of their hectic schedule, they took a boat ride on the Persian Gulf, signed autographs for military personnel and spoke to roughly 300 children involved in the Kuwait Little League program.
"It's been a lot of fun," Marlins catcher John Baker said. "We had a super busy day today. We were all over the country. We saw a ton of people at different military bases."
The Marlins are the first Major League team to send club representatives to visit troops in Kuwait and Iraq. Baker, National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, manager Fredi Gonzalez and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest are spending the week in the region.
Also on hand is Matt Britten, the team's director of marketing and promotion, as well as four members of the Marlins Mermaids dance squad.
The contingent left on Sunday, and it is scheduled to return on Feb. 1.
"One thing I've noticed is the country of Kuwait is very westernized," Baker said. "There is McDonald's and Pizza Hut. Everybody seems to speak English. Everything is written in Arabic and English. I feel like it's a great first country for us to be in here, because it breaks us into the culture."
Sending the Marlins to the region was a cooperative effort between MLB, the team and Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE).
After a busy day, the group ate dinner at a steak house at their hotel. On Monday, they had Chinese food.
The weather has been pleasant, in the mid-70s in the daytime and mid-50s at night.
"It's similar to the weather in Northern California," said Baker, a Northern California resident. "The weather is nice. It got a little cold when we went out on the boat, because we got wet bouncing around on a boat, which was a lot of fun."
The highlight at night came when the players spoke and signed autographs for children in the Kuwait Little League program.
"It was really neat. I did not know how active they were in baseball over here," said Coghlan, who batted .321 as a rookie in 2009. "It was really neat to see the excitement on their faces."
An official in the Kuwait Little League program attended the University of Miami, and several of the teams in the league are named the "Marlins."
"They were pretty big fans of the Marlins," Coghlan said. "They had a lot of players wearing Marlins jerseys. They had like a shrine to the Marlins, with some bobblehead dolls and some posters. It was really neat to go over there and see the gratitude they showed us."
The players were a bit surprised at how many kids in Kuwait had their pictures and knew who they were.
"There are people here who follow baseball a lot," Coghlan said. "They knew exactly who Baker and I were. There also was a Yankee fan who didn't know who Baker or I were."
During a question-and-answer session, a 13-year-old girl asked the Marlins players if there would ever be a female to make it to the big leagues. Another child asked Baker about catching. He wondered what a player needs to do to prepare to play the position.
"The kids asked questions," Baker said. "One said, 'Hey, I'm 13 years old. When you were 13, how many hours a day did you practice?' It was interesting to hear different viewpoints on baseball.
"Fredi said it the best. He said, 'No matter where you go across the world, kids are still kids. They act the same. They giggle. They laugh.' It was really fun to be around that kind of energy."
After spending time in Kuwait, the group is scheduled to go into Iraq and meet with more troops. For security reasons, they aren't given too much advanced notice on where they will be specifically.
"Overall, we've had an incredible reception," Baker said.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.