As winter begins to melt into spring — or at least that’s what I hear from people outside of Miami — I find myself anxiously waiting for the start of Spring Training and this year’s baseball season.
Waiting… it’s something nobody really likes to do. Whether it’s in line at the grocery store or in traffic on the way home, nobody likes to wait.
Well, yesterday I met someone who is waiting. They are waiting for something far more important than what you or I wait for.
Three year old Asbel is waiting for a new heart.
Yesterday, Billy The Marlin and I walked through the hospital doors and made our way to a room filled with family and friends surrounding this little boy from Panama. He could not have appeared to be happier, wearing his Marlins hat and a smile that could brighten any hospital room.
He sat up and began to go through the gifts that Billy had brought him. He shook his bobble heads, threw his new Marlins baseball, put on his “Super Billy” cape, and upon finding a canvas painting of Marlins Park, he let everyone know, “I want to go there!”
After a few pictures with Billy, countless high fives, and a “gracias and thank you” from this polite little boy, we left the hospital keeping Asbel in our thoughts.
So, the next time you find yourself growing frustrated as you wait, try to be like Asbel and do it with a smile. Remember, there are people out there smiling while waiting for far more important things that there is no guarantee will ever arrive.
We’re all pulling for you, Asbel, and hope that your wait is almost over.
At the Fisher House in Miami, veterans’ families are treated as just that, family. Located next to the VA Medical Center, the Fisher House serves as a sanctuary or “comfort home” to military and veterans’ families, at no cost, while a loved one is receiving treatment.
In addition to complimentary boarding, the Fisher House also provides freshly prepared meals for guests. Nearly anyone who has had a loved one hospitalized for longer than a day knows how exhausting it can be. After sitting in a cold, stuffy, cramped room for hours, what could be more appealing than a fresh hot plate?
That’s where the Blue Shirts come in! Marlins Ayudan Team Kickin’ Asphalt were Fisher House chefs for the afternoon, preparing a potluck to satisfy any pallet. As soon as they arrived they began mixing, measuring, boiling, and baking.
The result was a buffet that included rolls, salad, green beans, carrots, rice, corn casserole, mac and cheese, and baked chicken. For dessert, Kickin’ Asphalt prepared cakes and cookies with coffee and lemonade to drink.
Preparation took a total of two hours. They didn’t get to serve the guests and get their reactions to the meal, but satisfaction was guaranteed.
Baked BBQ chicken beats cafeteria meatloaf any day!
The following is a Guest Blog Post from Karl Ebert, Marlins Manager of Event Services, who is currently overseas with current Marlins player, Justin Bour, and former Marlins players, Chris Hatcher and Preston Wilson, on the #MarlinsTroopsVisit!
Nope! Slept straight through that first alarm. As soon as Dunlap woke us up at 0630, I immediately showered and got dressed in exactly 15 minutes. Dunlap was pushing us out the door in order to be in the mess hall before 0730. We got there with plenty of time to spare and plenty to eat. It was everything I imagined an Army mess hall to be like.
Our first activity was at 1045, so to pass the time, Brendan, Mark and I walked around the base. When we arrived back at the barracks, we went to the DEFAC to meet Colonel Wozniak. He is awesome – he mentioned that the American school was the only place in the city that had a baseball field. This immediately caught my attention and I asked him if he had any connections there to get us in, and he said he would see what he could do later that day.
Once 1045 rolled around, we set up tables in the mess hall for the Marlins players and Energy Team members to sign autographs for the troops. I laid out sharpies, pens, autograph cards, t-shirts, bags, bandannas, hats and more. Everything went smoothy with plenty of laughs on both sides of the table throughout the morning. While the players were signing their autographs, Wozniak came up to me and said that his contact at the school came through so immediately after the autograph session, we head straight to the school in hopes to catch the kids before the final bell.
This turned out to be the best decision we could have made. Wozniak met with Mr. Parker at the school and we got a tour. It happened to be International Day at the school, so all the students were dressed in their traditional garments. The energy at the school was different than school in the States. We learned that the school’s population represented over 70 nationalities, how cool!
Let me tell you – these students were incredible. There was a real sense of acceptance. Since it was International Day, there was a group of parents that set up games and food from their cultures. There was also a hawk, the national animal of our host country. We learned about hawk sanctuaries and hospitals. All the locals were so anxious to tell us that there are hawks that “cost more than the most expensive sports cars and most houses.” I really appreciated the loyalty and respect they have for these animals.
We then went to the gym to meet the middle school baseball team. They were not only excited for the hats and baseball cards we brought them, but for the autograph session. After the second autograph session, we made our way outside to the baseball field and every student bombarded the players. There was so much excitement from everyone. We all ended up on the field for a game with 15 kids in the infield and 10 in the outfield.
Justin Bour, Chris Hatcher and Preston Wilson all hit the ball pretty hard, but it was Hatcher that dropped three home runs over the 40-foot wall in left field. It was the highlight of the day. To see all the kids’ smiles and happiness was worth whatever trouble that they went through to get there. I made some friends and we ended up playing on the monkey bars and jungle gym.
It’s an incredible feeling to know that we really made a difference in the lives of everyone we met and talked to that day. I talked to one kid who wore an Australia football jersey. He asked me about the players and asked Preston about the time he won the World Series. He seemed like a good kid who wanted to embrace the moment, just as I was.
While we only spent an hour at the school, I wish we could have spent an entire day there. It’s one thing to come over here and boost morale for the troops that are here fighting and defending our freedom, but it’s definitely another fantastic opportunity to come to this school and have an immediate impact on the students. This day alone made the trip worth it.
When we departed the school, Dunlap and Street informed us that our mission changed. We headed straight to the mall. The mall happened to be next to one of the new Qatari stadiums being built for the 2022 World Cup, which I loved seeing.
We ate at a beautiful buffet-style restaurant in the mall. There was a water system in the middle with gondola rides from one end to the other. The most impressive thing was the ceiling; it mimicked what the actual sky was doing. If it was sunny, which it was, the sky shone bright, and during sunset, the ceiling got darker.
Back at the base, we learned that Monday is karaoke night. There was about 14 of us and we had a great time. After my second song, I sat at the table with all the soldiers. I met Sherry, Regina, Jamie, Cassidy and Will, who apparently were regulars at karaoke night. They all had incredible voices, although a couple of them were a little too shy to sing. I convinced Regina to sing a song, so I gave her an easy song to sing, “Brown Eyed Girl.” It was a perfect night with super cool people. I wish them the best during their tour and hope that I get to see them again.
Brendan and I stayed at the karaoke bar until it closed at midnight with Will, Jamie and Sherry. We then hopped on the bus back to the barracks. I stayed awake well past midnight, reflecting about the day and being much thankful for everything that I have: health, happiness and safety, all thanks to the incredible troops that I spent time with today.
I wish we could have spent more time with everyone today; I think one more day would have really brought us all closer together and develop a deeper bond than the surface connections we shared in a 24-hour span. These are guys I would gladly stand up alongside.
The following is a Guest Blog Post from Karl Ebert, Marlins Manager of Event Services, who is currently overseas with Marlins players Chris Hatcher, Justin Bour and former Marlin Preston Wilson on the #MarlinsTroopsVisit!
Wow! What a day! We have only been overseas for about six hours and you can already feel what a different way of life it is here compared to our regular lives back in the States. But let me start from the beginning:
I woke up at around 7:30 a.m. to my usual routine when the Marlins are out of town or in the offseason: watch the early English Premiere League match. I sat there on the couch thinking about what this day would bring and who it would lead me to. I found myself texting everyone in our group saying “Happy travel day!” and trying to get everyone excited for the beginning of our long journey, as I always do. For me, this was a different kind of excitement. It wasn’t like going to see a friend you haven’t seen in a while, or getting on a roller coaster or even going to a concert. It was a calming, nervous excitement. After the third match ended, Katie and I were a little antsy as we knew the time for departure was approaching quickly.
We headed to Marlins Park that afternoon to finish packing the car. We packed the bags of giveaways with snacks and even took the time to weigh each bag so we could try and avoid paying additional luggages fees at the airport. After receiving the per diems for the entire group, my main focus was to make sure everyone was at the airport on time and through security with no issues.
Mark and I were the first to arrive at Miami International Airport and the rest of our group arrived shortly thereafter. Everyone checked their bags and got through security fairly easily. We met the Marlins players at the terminal and made our way up to the airline’s lounge, which was very luxurious! A perfect place to spend the last 45 minutes in Miami with plenty of free food and drinks – thanks Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE)!
When we boarded our flight, I was pleasantly surprised to not only have my own little space with a pillow and blanket, but also my own set of pajamas, a sleep kit, personal toiletries and slippers. Perfect amenities to have for a 14-hour flight! I sat next to former Marlin outfielder, Preston Wilson, and we immediately bonded. He told me how he was studying to become a pilot and explained not only how planes fly, but the different systems they use to navigate the globe – fascinating!
During the flight, there was plenty of different local fare to try, so I ordered the Arab Palette Pleaser and the Arab Sampler. It came with tabouleh, hummus and much more. After chowing down, mostly everyone in my section was starting to fall asleep around 11 p.m. EST. However, I planned on staying up most of the night then take a nap around noon Southwest Asia-time, so I could be rested for the day once we landed and adjust to the time change as quickly as possible.
To pass the time, I watched movies and read my new Game of Thrones book. I took advantage of my seat that reclined into a bed in hopes of taking the perfect nap. However, I was wide awake and too excited to make it to our destination. I felt very fortunate that my first trip across the Atlantic Ocean was for an incredibly good cause. Since no one was awake to share in my excitement, I walked around the plane for a while and found some group members that were awake like I was. I brought them cookies and snacks from my section and we hung out for a bit. I eventually made my way back to my seat where I read some more, tracked our flight on the map, and relaxed as much as possible. I ended up only sleeping an hour on the flight and woke up even more excited than before. Breakfast rolled around where I feasted on yogurt with granola and the local Arab breakfast with bean paste, honey, cheeses, fresh vegetables and olives. Everyone continued sleeping and all I wanted to do was to open the windows to peer out onto a land I’ve never seen before.
Once we landed, we breezed through customs and got our passports stamped and visas paid. After a little baggage issue, we were finally made our way out of the airport to get this trip started! Outside we met Corporal Street and Sergeant Modile. Modile was sporting a Buffalo Bills jersey and we became instant friends. As we piled into two vans to head to the base, the moon was full and bright in the Arab sky.
We were then in the care of Specialist Marc Dunbar. He navigated the streets like a true native – he was in and out of the roundabouts, on and off the gas pedals the entire time. It definitely made it like a fun roller coaster-type of excitement. On our drive, CPL Street spotted a McDonald’s and let’s just say, we hit the brakes hard and cut across a lane, did a U-turn and pulled into the Golden Arches for a meal. Now, I don’t know if I’ll ever be hungry enough to eat at McDonald’s again, but for these Army guys, when they spend months and months on a base, any semblance of home is worthy of stop.
After our pitstop, we finally arrived to the base, boom! “Passports, everyone! Out of the vehicles, behind the wall! Wait here!” was all we heard, as we all waited patiently as the dogs sniffed our bags and the vans for security measures. We were taken to our barracks, which turned out to be nicer than expected. I noticed that soldiers were taking our luggage and told them “no way!” They defend our freedom everyday, the least I could do was to help with luggage.
After we got settled, Dunbar took us next door for food. We went to an establishment that resembled both an Irish pub and a corner cafe. We all ate together and drank some local beer. As we ate, a few soldiers sat and spoke with us about baseball and everything else. It was cool to hear the Marlins players on the trip with us tell stories of their Major League debuts and their personal histories playing baseball. It was all great conversation. When we finished up, Dunbar took us on a mini tour of base. He told us stories about his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, which instantly put everything in perspective for me, that we are here to do some good for these troops. Give them a distraction from their daily jobs – sign a baseball, play catch, just talk about home. Anything they can do to get their minds off of “them.” It really helps.
We were dropped off at the barracks around midnight. I stayed up a couple more hours and hope to wake up at 5 a.m. local time to go for a run. Think that would be possible after a full day of traveling from Miami? Wait and see!
Today was an amazing….
Today was a special day at Marlins Park -and that’s putting it lightly. The moments that made up today impacted everyone involved.
Today was so great because Marlins Foundation Charity Partner, Special Olympics of Florida, brought its skills clinic to Marlins Park. Athletes of all ages – eight to adult – showcased their skills on the field at Marlins Park. That’s right – they showcased their skills. As Marlins Ayudan volunteers that spent the morning working with the athletes, we were told early on that today we would learn a lot more about the athletes’ abilities than their disabilities. That’s exactly what happened.
The standout moment of the day for me began when I went over to speak to some 4th graders from Kensington Park Elementary. They were all so eager to talk to me about Marlins Park, about their day, about their favorite sports, and so on, and so forth. One boy in particular, Joshua, had a lot of questions about Marlins Park. I spoke with him for a long time until it was time to start the skills assessment. I told him I’d see him when see got to my station.
A few hours later when I finally welcomed Kensington Park Elementary to the [Major League!] dugout to get ready for base running, Joshua immediately stated with fire,
“Coach! I’ve been looking for you all day! I have so much more to talk to you about”.
His statement blew me away. First of all, I was honored. I felt like after knowing him for a mere half hour that I was one of his role models, like a mentor or older sibling, whose time was all that mattered to him. Second of all, he really did have so much more to ask about his surroundings. Joshua was in a never-ending pursuit of knowledge.
In addition to Joshua’s blossoming curiosity a few of the inspiring abilities I noticed in the athletes today were:
Chivalry amongst peers,
Rockin dance moves,
Knack for following directions,
Tolerance for others’ beliefs…
Oh, and of course:
Coming to work this morning I’m not sure the Marlins front office knew what to expect for a day working with Special Olympics athletes, but the early advice we received most definitely proved true – We would learn more about their abilities than their disabilities.