February 2011

Saludos from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba(Day 1)

Hey Marlins fans,

Early this morning, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Volstad, Stef, Jen, and Carin from the Mermaids jumped on a U.S. Navy C12 plane and took off for Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.  This is the first visit for the Marlins down here and day one has been great.  First, on the way over here, Gaby and Chris took a turn at the wheel of the C12 sitting in the Co-pilot’s seat next to our Navy pilot.  These guys actually had a chance to “take the wheel” for a little bit and let’s just say we’re all glad to be safely on the ground. 


Once we arrived, we took a ferry from the leeward side to the windward side of the island where we got our first glimpses of Guantanamo Naval Base.  This is a 45 square mile area that houses about 6,000 folks from all the branches of our military.  We hosted a baseball and dance clinic at Cooper Field in the afternoon for the kids that live on the base.  This is the local recreation facility on the base where they have baseball/softball fields as well as a football/soccer field and a track.  Everyone was excited to see us and the kids were able to take part in some baseball drills with Gaby and Chris as well as learn a basic routine from the Mermaids.  After the clinic, we signed a few autographs and took some pictures with the families in attendance. 


Next up, Monday morning is PT(physical training) with the Marines.  Let see what kind of shape Gaby, Chris, and the Mermaids are in after that.  It’s very warm over here and it’s already close to 90 degrees by 7am!  It’s been great so far and very rewarding being able to come down here and thank these folks for all they do for us on a daily basis in serving their country.  On Monday we will also be going over to Marine Hill which is near the fence line that separates the base from Cuba.  Until next time…

Germany has been a great experience so far. We had the chance to try a “doner” last night. It is similar a gyro but better.  And the French fries….better than McDonald’s any day. I would rate the “doner” above a chicken shawarma but below the lamb shawarma.  The food here is great. I will be hitting the gym hard when I get back this weekend in preparation for spring training but I won’t lie…I am looking forward to a traditional German meal tomorrow in Wiesbaden.

I can’t believe we are headed back to Miami in two days. It has been around the world in 8 days. I could not be more grateful for this experience. I know how much family means to a military brat since I grew up one while my father was in the Coast Guard. At each stop on this trip, it feels like we have made everyone very appreciative and happy for our visit.

The real heroes are the kids we had the opportunity to visit today at schools around Ramstein Air Base. While their parents are volunteers, the kids are not.  They have grown up far away from their parents and especially while in a foreign country.  It was awesome seeing them so excited to see us.  While visiting each school, the Mermaids performed for middle & high school students (and the young lads got pretty excited after the routine). The real star was Andre. He not only had moves on the field but he had them on the dance floor as well. It was much better than my performance (stayed tuned for video). Those new knees aren’t stopping him from getting down on the dance floor.  I think he could make it through a few rounds in Dancing with the Stars.

We hosted another baseball clinic with a youth baseball team. We had a potential prospect on our hands until he threw the ball about 20 feet away from me and hit an Air Force Captain. He still has a few more years to develop but he might be there some day.

At The Exchange store, we conducted an almost 2-hour autograph session and met over 300 people. It was great! Afterwards I finally got to hit the gym. I am looking forward to our last stop tomorrow.

Mermaids Adventure At Sea (Naty)

Hi Marlins fans! This is Mermaid Naty writing to you from Southeast Asia. Our trip overseas to support our troops had been beyond words.  I am amazed and honored to be a part of this life changing experience. My favorite and most memorable event in Southwest Asia was our Mermaids adventure at sea with the United States Navy. On Sunday, we took a boat ride in the Persian Gulf.  Before hopping on the boat, we had to strap on these heavy bulky life jackets and tie our hair back.  We quickly jumped on the front of the boat in order to get the best view. We were warned that we were going to get wet, but we thought it is all or nothing and decided to ride it out in the front. We should have known were in for a special treat when all the other passengers rode on the back of the boat. As we were admiring the beautiful view and listening to our guide, the waves suddenly started getting real choppy and the captain increased the speed at which we were traveling. We quickly realized we were going to get soaked! Let’s just say when we arrived to our destination, we were all soaked from head to toe. Ashley, Kim and I were laughing nonstop as we were getting splashed on because our hair and makeup turned into a complete disaster.  We held on tightly to the railing to maintain our position as the boat soared through the harbor.  It was quite an adventure and a moment we all will always remember (especially the sailors who warned us). The once pretty, dolled up Mermaids ended up soaked but feeling like true troopers.  I look forward to sharing more stories with you soon!

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience (John Sulser)

Day 1 is finally over, although somehow we’ve actually been at it 3 days. We departed Miami on the 3rd, lost a whole day due to travel and time changes, landed on the evening of the 4th, and it is now midnight on the 5th here. The flights overseas were not quite as bad as everyone thought they would be. It was over 17 hours of travel time and more than 7,800 miles covered – but we all managed to make it in one piece.

Unfortunately, the most important “piece” of my week is sitting at the customs office in Bahrain. Apparently a form with the tourism board was not filled out correctly, so they seized my camera right after I got off the plane. The weekend in Bahrain is Friday (their holy day) and Saturday – so we’re hoping the ministry can clear it up tomorrow and I can get my camera back.

In the mean time, thank goodness Boris and the Marlins brought a small handycam that I’ve been able to use to film all of our goings-on. Last night we all had an introductory dinner at a restaurant in our hotel with our guides who will be accompanying us this week. Jamie with Armed Forces Entertainment has helped coordinate the entire event and will be with us the entire trip all the way to Germany. Kari and Mark lead the contingency of people on the ground here in Bahrain who are helping us get around and coordinating all of our stops. They had different baseball allegiances 2 days ago – but I think they’re all fish fans now.

This morning we awoke early and headed to breakfast at the base. The place we ate at is almost like a mini-mall on base complete with a coffee shop, Taco Bell, A&W, pizza place, and a full cafeteria mess hall. There is even a HUGE store with everything from Valentines gifts to magazines to groceries to “Hard Rock – Bahrain” t-shirts.

After breakfast we went to our first visit at a battery here on the island nation of Bahrain. The soldiers were incredibly friendly and welcoming and were ecstatic to greet our group. After some short introductions the guys and the Mermaids sat down and had an autograph session where they signed pictures, balls, and hats for the soldiers. Then it was a photo-op for everyone and on to the next base.

We headed to ISA Air Base and had another meet & greet with a group of soldiers in their mess hall. What struck me most was how everyone decorated the place with little pieces of home. College posters, NFL pennants, and flags adorned the walls so everyone could be proud of their hometown Cleveland Cavs, the St. Louis Rams, or the Florida Gators. We had lunch at another part of the base and then were given a tour of the facilities by Sergeant Patterson.

We were all amazed at what these soldiers have to persevere while serving in the gulf. The live in incredibly cramped quarters, 136 degree temperatures in the summer, and have to be away from their families, their loved ones, and their country for long stretches of time. I think we all gained a new appreciation for what goes on after we realized the hardships these folks go through on a daily basis… And I haven’t even mentioned the stresses of living the daily life of a soldier ensured with our safety and security!

There was a meet & greet again that afternoon with a large contingency of air force, army, marines, and navy officers all stationed in Bahrain. The players gave away hats, t-shirts, and autographed balls – but I think the autographed photo of the Mermaids was by far the hottest item being distributed. Everyone at ISA was incredibly welcoming and receptive and it was hard to tell who was getting more out of the day, the Marlins or the soldiers.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at the famous Sharajat-al-Hayat (“Tree of Life”). It is a 400 year-old mesquite tree located in the middle of the desert on a 25-foot-high hill. It is believed that tree is rooted into and underground well because there is no rhyme or reason why such a large tree should exist in the middle of nowhere. Some locals even think the tree marks the location of the Garden of Eden as various historical texts place it somewhere in this region.

In the evening we headed to a small school for English speaking students in Bahrain where a local baseball league plays. Their field gave new meaning to the term “sandlot” as it was a gravelly dirt field with not a blade of grass on it. Still, the youngsters playing ball there seem determined to learn the game. Niner, Hawk, LoMo, John Buck, and David Samson drilled the younger kids in various aspects of the game and then held a clinic for the older kids where Andre Dawson provided some sage advice and hitting tips.

At this point everyone is completely gassed and we’ve been running on adrenaline for 2 (3?) days straight. And it doesn’t get any better tomorrow as our day starts with PT training with the Marines FAST Company at 6:00AM and ends with a Super Bowl party on base a 2:30AM followed by an early morning flight to our next stop. It’s been crazy, but I don’t think any of us regrets coming as it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

John A. Sulser – Fox Sports Florida, Marlins Producer

Reflections from Day 1 (John Buck)

Wow, where to begin?  My first day here in Bahrain and I have to admit I woke up before the alarm went off in anticipation of seeing and spending time with the troops.  Our first stop was at a highly classified location which was amazing and proved to be an eye opener to see what they entail on a daily basis.  At our second stop, we visited the airbase and had the opportunity to have lunch with Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel.  This allowed me to have personal conversations with the troops and learn more about their roles in the military.  I met a gentleman from Kentucky who basically does overall maintenance on computers and electronics.  I also met some pilots from New Jersey and yes I did get them to do a fist pump!  After lunch, we were able to check out their living arrangements.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it happen to be a much smaller and confined than I had anticipated. It is hard to believe how they cram that many guys into a small community tent.  Plus all they had were sheets separating them for individual privacy.   As they were taking us through the tent, they said the temperature can get up to 120 degrees during the height of the summer and the AC unit did not look big enough to pump out a lot of air conditioning.  Just one more humbling reminder of what the men and women go through to protect us and make our lives comfortable and safe in the United States and around the world.  After a 45 minute autograph session at the same base, we headed over to see the world famous Tree of Life.  For as much significance as this tree possesses, it definitely did not seem to be well preserved for being a national landmark.  Other than a small iron fence around the base of the tree, it appeared vandalized with name carvings, dates, and other stuff you can imagine. From there we went to a military base and hosted a baseball clinic for kids ranging from the ages of 7 through 13.  The camp came with good timing as it gave me a second boost of energy due to the long day. The kids had a great time and of course we ended up getting more out of those kids than they got out of us.  It was one of those experiences that I will never forget.  As I write this blog before I shower up and prepare to hit the town of Bahrain for a good dinner, I can only imagine what tomorrow is going to entail for us.  We start bright and early training with the Marines and it should be a good one if I survive.  Rumor has it they are the best of the best.

First Day Visiting with the Troops (David Samson)

It is 10:05 p.m., and we are all going to sleep because tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. Saturday night), we are all working out with the U.S. Marines.  Logan, John, Jeff and I are competing to see who can keep up with the physical activity that awaits us.  The Marines will not tell us what is in store, but I will let you know after we are done.  In the meantime, our day today started with breakfast with the Troops inside a fully secure Army Base in Bahrain.  Andre had a milkshake, while Logan and I shared a dozen eggs.  We then drove to another base, where we passed nothing but desert on the way to a meet and greet at a secure location outside Bahrain.  We visited with Troops as they told us stories of what they do every day monitoring situations in the Middle East.  We were all struck by the seriousness of war, as we drove by the Persian Gulf throughout the day.  Lunch was spent with a different Battalion, and I shared a meal with a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force.  While she was a fan of the Boston Red Sox, she wondered whether we would miss Hanley Ramirez if he were to change uniforms.  After telling her that he is and will be a Marlin, she stood down.  Eating lunch in the Mess Hall was fascinating, due in part to the food, but mostly because of the company.  We were able to see the living quarters on the Isa Air Base, which made us even more thankful for how lucky we are to be at home each night with our families.  We were able to do a clinic with over 100 children of members of military and Ex-Pats.  The dads had just as much fun as the children…autographs were signed, photos were taken, and everyone had a great time.  On the way back to our living quarters (hotel), we saw the Tree of Life.  In the movie L.A. Story, Steve Martin describes the three most mystical places on earth.  One of the three is the Tree of Life, which is located in the desert outside Bahrain.  To have the opportunity to actually see the Tree was beyond description.  In a desert with nothing but sand, there is one tree that stands high and has been around for over 400 years.  Legend says this tree, which has no business growing in the desert, marks the location of the Garden of Evil.  In any case, we ended the day back at the hotel and just finished dinner.  I will keep everyone updated after the Marine workout.

We have arrived in Southwest Asia! (David Samson)

Night 1 – we have arrived!  Our day began at 11:00 a.m. at Miami International Airport.  Our group of eleven includes me, Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine, John Buck, Logan Morrison, Sean Flynn, Boris Menier, (3) members of the Mermaid Dance Team, Kim, Ashley and Naty, and John Sulser from FOX Sports Florida.  We checked our bags and had to pay excess baggage fees because Andre & Kim over-packed.  It was a good thing Kim over-packed, because Naty’s bag did not make it overseas.  After check-in, we had our final meal in America in Miami and boarded a plane to Dulles in Washington D.C.  That flight was only 2 hours.  We then got on a 12-hour flight and landed at 4:30 p.m. (local time 8:30 a.m. this morning), finally arriving in the Kingdom of Bahrain.  Before we got here, the plane stopped in Kuwait where we all had a chance to see the Kuwait Airport during our two-hour layover.  We were able to buy some goodies, including Kit Kats, Gummy Bears, and of course, key chains and snow globes (for my daughter, Hannah, who collects them).  It was smooth sailing until we got to Bahrain when John’s fancy camera (he is filming the entire trip) was not allowed through Customs and Naty’s bag got lost.  She was very upset until she realized she would be able to go shopping in Bahrain, but then became upset again when she realized there is no Prada in this Kingdom.  We arrived at the hotel and immediately went to work out in the gym.  We are all ready for Spring Training, and everyone in the gym was staring at Logan wondering how a professional athlete could be huffing & puffing so much!  We just finished dinner and are going to bed, because our first Troop visit is at 8:00 a.m. (midnight Miami time).  Lt. Mark Miner and his lovely wife had dinner with us, and told us that the soldiers are incredibly excited to see us tomorrow.  He started dinner as a Red Sox fan, but his favorite team now is clearly the Marlins.  We are all glad to finally be here and are looking forward to tomorrow when we will be able to visit Troops.  We also plan to play baseball with them.  Tensions are high here because of what’s going on in Egypt, but we are all very safe in the hands of Armed Forces Entertainment (and it doesn’t hurt that their hips are bulging).  Speak to you all tomorrow.

Our Travels Begin (David Samson)

This is an update as of noon today…we just completed check-in, and the journey is about to begin!  We are all together, and Kim won for the heaviest suitcase…actually, it was suitcases.  Proud to say mine was the lightest at 44 lbs.  The next time we see daylight from outside an airport, we will be in Southwest Asia.

David Samson

Fewer than 24 hours from departure (David Samson)

It is 4:20 p.m., and we are leaving in 21 hours.  Logan Morrison, Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine and I held a press conference this morning, where the (2) funniest discoveries were that Andre plans to bring a minimum of 3-5 suitcases (he will be the best dressed person to visit the troops in history), and that Jeff plans to watch The Hangover 12 times (it will still be funny the 12th time).  I personally just left Walgreen’s, where I picked up enough Good ‘n Plenty and Swedish Fish to feed most of the troops.  We have all of our gear ready and are looking forward to the trip, where we will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to entertain our troops overseas.

On a more serious note, we have all spent much time preparing for this trip and thinking of different ways to bring baseball and a piece of home to the soldiers.  We have all packed our baseball gloves, as well as enough hats and shirts to convert every soldier to a Marlins fan.  We had to change John Buck’s flight arrangements because of the winter storm throughout the country, but luckily, in Florida and Washington, the weather is good (John is flying from the west coast).

Spring Training is coming soon, but in the meantime, this trip is the beginning of our Caravan for the Troops (www.marlins.com/caravan). We will all stay in touch for the next (9) days.

David Samson