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

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