Marlins' respect for troops greater after visit

Marlins' respect for troops greater after visit

Marlins' respect for troops greater after visit
Visiting military personnel stationed in Southwest Asia and Germany over the past eight days offered the Marlins a chance to reach out to those serving in the armed forces.

But after witnessing military life firsthand, it's the team representatives on the trip who return home most touched by the eight-day experience.

"The people we got a chance to meet were more spectacular than we even had dreamed," president David Samson said. "The respect that each of us has for the military is so far greater than when the trip started. The understanding of what they do on a daily basis, it's just far deeper than it was when the trip started."

What the contingent learned is that their actions, more than their words, made the biggest impact.

"We were told this by a colonel over here," Samson said. "He said, 'Most people say they support the troops as long as it's convenient to say they support the troops. What you guys have done, flying halfway across the world, shows how you really feel.' "

For the second consecutive year, the Marlins worked with Armed Forces Entertainment to set up a visit to troops. In 2010, team officials traveled to Iraq and Kuwait.

"It is very meaningful to all the troops around the world when they see civilians back home appreciate what they do," Samson said.

The Marlins contingent included Samson, outfielder Logan Morrison, catcher John Buck, and special assistants Andre Dawson and Jeff Conine.

Also making the trip were Sean Flynn, senior vice president of marketing; Boris Menier, marketing supervisor; John Sulser, a game producer for Fox Sports Florida; and three members of the Marlins Mermaids dance team.

During the trip, Morrison, Buck, Dawson and Conine took the time to talk to MLB Network about their experience. They discussed Morrison's new haircut and Buck getting to know his new teammates.

"I want to thank Armed Forces Entertainment for sponsoring this trip," Samson said. "The second annual [visit to] the troops has been very successful, and we eagerly anticipate a third annual trip next year."

The eye-opening journey has changed Samson's view of those in uniform.

"It's impossible to form an intelligent opinion on the armed forces until you've been among them in an area of deployment," he said.

A mental snapshot that he brings home is a chat he had with a soldier the night before the soldier was sent to Afghanistan.

"What hits you is the look in the eyes of a young soldier who knows he is about to be deployed to Afghanistan, and taking advantage of a final night on a base in Bahrain, spending time with us," he said. "And he is being thankful to us for that moment. We said to him as he left, 'Our only wishes for you are that you return, quickly and safely.'

"It hits you because it's real. It's not an article in a newspaper. It's not a minute blurb on the news."

For Conine, a former All-Star and a member of both Marlins World Series title teams, a highlight was watching the Super Bowl with about 300 soldiers in Bahrain.

"When you saw Christina Aguilera sing the national anthem, it was dead, 100 percent silent," Conine said. "I got a little choked up. Being 7,000 miles from home, and to watch the biggest football game in the world with people who would die for their country ... That national anthem meant a lot to them."

Even Aguilera's flubbing of a line didn't daunt the troops.

"It didn't matter. It did come up, but it was not an issue," Samson said.

The playing of the national anthem is so routine at sporting events, Samson said, it has a way of being overlooked. He pledges to not feel that way again.

"We hear the anthem played 162 times a year [before each Marlins game], and it becomes a habit," he said. "But after seeing the anthem played, and having sat with troops during it, it will never be a habit again."

Another lasting mental image for Conine is the ages of the soldiers.

"It hits you when you realize the people you are talking to could be my children," he said. "Most of the soldiers here are 20, 21, 22 years old. They are like half my age. We've talked baseball. They know who we are."

Over the eight days, the Marlins packed in as many visits and meet-and-greets as possible. They conducted two baseball clinics for young players, and they visited wounded soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

"We had 18- to 20-hour days, every single day," Conine said. "We were actually looking forward to the seven-hour flight to Germany because we were able to get a couple of hours of sleep."

With their second troops visit completed, the Marlins will soon work toward setting up a third for 2012.

"Armed Forces Entertainment works with us to tell us where we're needed the most," Samson said. "We are continuing this program until it is no longer necessary."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.