Marlins ready to ship out to Iraq, Kuwait

Marlins ready to ship out to Iraq, Kuwait

MIAMI -- If the opportunity arises to play some catch, the Marlins will have gloves and baseballs.

They also are packing up some team merchandise to give away, like caps and T-shirts.

Other than that, actually playing baseball will not be foremost on the minds of team representatives who are heading overseas to support the troops.

A contingent of Marlins employees, in cooperation with Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE), will be making a historic appearance to military personnel serving in Iraq and Kuwait.

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez, National League Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and catcher John Baker will be traveling overseas from Sunday through Feb. 1 to spend some time with the troops.

The military has given its approval for the players to pack some baseball gloves. Gonzalez added he would take a dozen baseballs.

"Who knows, maybe it will be a little scouting trip, too," Gonzalez said jokingly.

Also representing the organization will be president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, senior director of team travel Bill Beck and director of marketing and promotions Matt Britten. Four members of the Marlins Mermaids dance squad also will be on hand.

The Marlins will be the first Major League franchise traveling to the region since the war in Iraq started.

"When we walk away, we'll probably get more out of it than we ever thought about going in," Coghlan said. "For the troops, whatever we can do to take their mind off the everyday life they're living over there, we'll do."

Updates from the trip will be on www.marlins.com.

"I think it's a good thing, what we're doing for the troops, and for ourselves, too," Gonzalez said. "I think we're going to come out of there feeling pretty good about ourselves.

"There is also danger. We're not going to Disney World or any place like that. Something can happen. But I think the percentage of stuff that could happen is slim. There is some nervousness there in my part."

The group will be leaving on Sunday from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. They will fly in and out of Kuwait, and then travel into Iraq.

Taking part has special meaning to the Marlins.

Baker has a number of relatives who have served in the military, dating back to World War II.

"I kind of grew up, not necessarily in the military lifestyle, but people who would be or were at one point in the military," Baker said. "I've received so many positive e-mails from my family already, saying, just being a civilian -- not being a baseball player -- heading over to see these men and women is a positive thing, because it brings a slice of home and part of America to them."

Coghlan's brother, Kevin, is a corporal in the U.S. Marines who has served two terms in Iraq. Currently, he is back in the United States attending a junior college.

"I'm sure I would have done it, even if my brother wasn't in," Coghlan said. "It just makes it that much more special. I think it means a lot to him, too, for me to go over there. When we talk, he gives me a heads-up on things that they go through -- things that we don't fully understand, because we haven't fought in a war. I think we can go over there and try to give them peace of mind for a day; to tell stories, play catch, whatever we can do to help."

Gonzalez has long had an appreciation of the military. Late in the 2009 season, when the Marlins had an off-day in New York, he visited the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In December, the Marlins manager took his 16-year-old son, Alex, to Philadelphia for the Army-Navy football game.

"These kids are kids. They're freshmen in college," Gonzalez said when he saw those in uniform at the game. "In three or four years, they are going to graduate from the Academies and go to a camp or base somewhere and fight for freedom. I have a 16-year-old son. That's what was really, really eye-opening."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.