A Tale of Baseball in Kuwait…Renegade Style
On the wake of tomorrow being Veteran’s Day, I want to take a moment to salute and give props to the men and women who stand in harm’s way, and those who support them both home and abroad. Even in a hostile country thousands of miles away back in 1991, baseball was my link to salvation on those desert afternoons and down times. Those games have left an indelible imprint on my heart and soul. I hope you enjoy my Kuwaiti tale .
I remember one night when my father and grandfather were sitting on the back porch and their voices began to rise a few hundred decibel while discussing the game of baseball. Both of them had a genuine respect and admiration for some of this Nation’s best baseball player who put down their bats and picked up a rifle or wrench or fly combat missions when manpower was needed to defend this country’s mindset and dreams.
Even if my time in the military was short compared to both of those men, I always made time to let some of the nuances of baseball intertwine into my daily routine. I was attached to a small unit that made it ashore during some of the first waves of amphibian approaches to Kuwait and within my gear taken abroad was my glove and a baseball.
Throwing back and forth even as the penetrating sun and swirling sands scraped at our skin like sandpaper. We still threw for hours just to bring some form of home into our minds and hearts, not only to break the slow ticking of time in the desert. Even though the majority of the soldiers of my unit had deep cravings for football, there was always time for a baseball, or someone boasting about their curveball being slick, or having a rocket launcher attached to their arms.
The game of baseball was an instant bonding agent no matter if we were from St. Petersburg, Florida, Rock City, North Carolina or Portland, Maine.
The game transcended the two countries ideologies and language. Poked past the cultural differences and the social unrest of the region. We even invited some of the local Kuwaiti kids to join us in our games. It felt great to spread this great sport to another region just as my father did in ports in the South Pacific, and my grandfather in England and Denmark.
During my time in the Middle East I found a new respect and admiration for the game, just as my father and grandfather had before me. I began to experience what they meant about how the passion and the pulling power of the game brings not only a group of soldiers together, but is a starting point for interact with the locals introducing them to baseball. This game that could start with two people and then suddenly blossom into 20 or more souls playing their hearts out sometimes blew my mind when the locals, both young and old eagerly began cheering and watching intently during the games.
I can still remember like it was yesterday when we were about to pulling out from our post near the Northern border of Kuwait that I needed to leave of piece of me here. Something had to stay here for this to seem real to me. So as we were motoring through the city of Abdari I saw a few kids throwing a baseball around the town’s central square.
I called for one of them to come over to my Humvee. I had a friend in the unit with me who was a translator and he asked the boy for me if he knew how to play baseball. The young kid, maybe 10 told my friend he was being taught the game before the local Marines pulled out and he was left with only the baseball.
I took the Humvee out of gear then went to the back of the unit. I got out my duffel bag and searched for a few moments and brought out my old college baseball glove, two of my wooden Louisville Sluggers and about 12 more baseballs sent to me from home. Even though I knew soccer was the prominent sport in this country, I wanted to leave a “baseball” piece of me in Kuwait that day.
I gave the items to the boy and made him promise to use them for sport and not as weapons or as bargaining pieces with his friend. I wanted him and his friends to want the items to play the game, not to sell or even trade for something else. He nodded his head in agreement and he ran yelling and screaming with excitement from our Humvee with his new-found sporting equipment. His small group of friends all encircled him like he had found a golden statue in the sand.
As I got back into the Humvee to drive away, he and new baseball posse all waved to us and I was glad deep down inside to leave a small part of me in this small Kuwaiti town. But more, I was glad to leave a part of the game.