I Hope I Left a Slice of Baseball Love in Kuwait
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. Baseball has journeyed to many American held battle lines all over the World. Seems only natural a team-oriented sport would follow the men and women who make up the many squadrons, platoons and units involved in military actions.
I hope you enjoy my Kuwaiti tale .
I remember one night back in 1970 when my father and grandfather were sitting on the back porch and their voices began to rise a few hundred decibels while discussing the game of baseball. My maternal Grandpa was born near Pittsburgh and my Father called Philadelphia his home before enlisting in the Merchant Marines, then the Navy. My Grandfathers path was to Europe in World War I and WW II while my Father was shipped off to the South Pacific aboard the USS Denver and USS John W Weeks during WW II.
Each of them had a deep and genuine respect plus admiration for the fortitude and courage displayed by so many of this Nation’s best baseball players who put down their bats and picked up a rifle or wrench or flew combat missions when American soles and manpower were needed to defend this country’s mindset and innate dream of freedom.
I would sit there entranced in their dialogue intrigued by their tales and memories not knowing yet I would one day have a tale or two of my own to spin to my children. Even if my time in the military was short compared to both of these men, I always seemed to make time to let the nuances of baseball intertwine into my daily deployment routine. I was attached to a small unit that made it ashore during some of the first waves of amphibian approaches to Kuwait and hidden within my gear that I took abroad was my old glove and a scuffed ball.
It was my personal form of stress and daily grind relief to try and toss the ball back and forth daily even as the penetrating sun and swirling sands scraped at my skin like sandpaper. I seemed to throw for hours just to bring some form of home into my mind and heart, not only to break the slow ticks of time in the desert. Even though the majority of the soldiers of my unit had deep cravings for football, there was always someone who shared my baseball passion, or possibly someone boasting that their curveball was unhitable or slick, or that they possessed their own form of rocket launcher attached to their arm.
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.
To me it always seemed that baseball transcended different ideologies and the languages. Poked past the cultural differences and the social unrest of the region. I 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 what looked like a make-shift baseball around the town’s central square.
I called for one of them to come over to my Humvee. I had a guy in our 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 went to the back of our Humvee and I pulled my duffel out and searched for a few moments before bringing 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 my own piece of my love for baseball in Kuwait.
I gave the items to the boy and through the translator made him promise to use them for sport and not as weapons or as bargaining pieces with his friends. 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 coins in the sand.
As I got back into the Humvee to drive away, he and his assembled 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. We pulled out a few days later in that region and I never got a chance to revisit and see if they played any sort of organized game with the equipment but I want to believe that baseball is still being played in that Kuwati village and that the young boy who I gave that baseball equipment to that day has grown and taught his own children to play baseball just as my Father and Grandfather probably did in their own tours.