01/30/10 2:17 PM EST
Marlins connecting with troops overseas
Group visiting Iraq to fly on Apache Helicopter on Saturday
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
On occasion, they will meet someone with a similar background.
During an autograph session, manager Fredi Gonzalez felt a common bond when a female solider said she attended Southridge High School in Miami.
Gonzalez, who celebrated his 46th birthday on Thursday, is a Southridge graduate.
"In my first visit to one of the camps, one of the ladies going through the line said she went to the same high school I went to," Gonzalez said. "I'm like 30 years removed from her. It hits home. When we sign autographs, we'll ask, 'Where are you from?' And 'What do you do for the Navy, Army or Marines?'"
Representatives from the Marlins are spending a week visiting troops in Kuwait and Iraq. The Marlins are the first MLB team to send a contingent to the region since the Iraq War began.
In cooperation with Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE), the Marlins group has toured military camps overseas since Jan. 24. The trip ends late Sunday night, when they will fly back to the United States.
They are scheduled to land in Washington about 6 a.m. on Monday.
From the organization are Gonzalez, outfielder Chris Coghlan, catcher John Baker, president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, director of marketing and promotions Matt Britten and four members of the Marlins Mermaids dance squad.
On the agenda for Saturday was a flight in an Apache Helicopter.
The Marlins are getting the full taste of military life. Coghlan noted via Twitter that on Saturday he would be in an Apache Helicopter, along with visiting troops and shooting guns. He also said, while wearing a body suit, he will get the experience of being attacked by a K-9.
Coghlan also has done some weight lifting during the trip. He pointed out that the weight room at a base in Iraq was no bigger than his bedroom.
Serving as ambassadors for baseball, the Marlins are offering a diversion to the troop.
"It really has been great for them," Gonzalez said. "You can see it on their faces. They're there for eight months to a year. Then all of a sudden, they've got nine people rolling in, talking baseball, playing catch.
"Baker and Coghlan have played catch with a bunch of guys. I'd speak with the commanding officer back-and-forth, about all kinds of stuff. I know I've taken a great deal away from the visit, and I'm sure they have too. It's been fun."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.