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.
A beeping ball. Two buzzing bases. Blindfolds. A bat. This is the simple recipe for a game of Beep Ball. Yesterday the Marlins hosted an all- interns event, in which they teamed up with members of our charity partner, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for the second time to play this modified game of baseball. It was a day full of fun, learning, and community. Teams competed for awards such as “Sportsmanship”, “Wackiest Team”, “Best Team Chant”, “Most Team Spirit”, “Most Competitive”, and “Best Team Name”.The time spent interacting throughout the day, particularly being one another’s eyes, was very powerful. It allowed our team to learn just as much from our guests as they did from us. It was evident that everyone involved was able to take away a positive memory, as well as a better understanding and appreciation for those within our community.
Wondering where Beyond the Ballpark bloggers have been? Wondering what ICYMI stands for? So many questions, so many answers in this blog entry!
Your beloved bloggers have not forgotten you, in fact we were thinking of you and your reading interests when we set out to have the best month ever, hereby referred to as The Month of Awesome.
So, Beyond the Ballpark blog fans, In case you missed it (ICYMI), here are ten things that made June at Marlins Park The Month of Awesome!
Citrus Cup Softball Classic (June 2nd)
The Marlins Wives took on the Rays Wives in the 4th Citrus Cup Softball Classic. Marlins Wives won 10-9 evening the series at 2-2, and raised over $2,100 for Marlins RBI Softball.
RBI Career Workshop Launch (June 10th)
Marlins RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) is about more than baseball, it’s about character development. This summer we launched a Career Development seminar during which students receive guidance from employees all across the Marlins front office, like President of Baseball Operations, Mike Hill.
Father’s Day (June 15th)
The Miami Marlins and Major League Baseball celebrated Father’s Day by raising awareness and funds for Prostate Cancer with the goal to “Keep Dad in The Game”. Giancarlo celebrated with a blue arm sleeve for awareness.
Fish N Chips (June 18th)
In its annual Casino Party, Fish N’ Chips, the Marlins Foundation and Event Chair Jarrod Saltalamacchia raised money for Marlins RBI.
Camp Boggy Creek Sendoff (June 19th)
In Partnership with UM’s Alex’s Place, the Marlins served as a departure site for campers headed to the Seriously Fun Camp that any child, despite their illness can enjoy.
Buses For Baseball (June 19th)
Through the MLBPA over 50 kids from Overtown Youth Center and Roberto Clemente Park had a once-in-a-lifetime batting practice experience. They all received baseballs and player autographs.
Our Community Salutes (June 20th)
Local High School graduates were officially sworn into the Marines, Navy, and Army at Marlins Park.
Play Sun Smart (June 20th-22nd)
Major League Baseball and the Miami Marlins teamed up to increase skin cancer awareness. Local Boys and Girls Clubers helped deliver sun screen throughout the ballpark.
RBI Baseball Clinic (June 21st)
Marlins RBI league participants were invited to a day of instruction on the Marlins Park field.
RBI Softball Clinic (June 28th)
Marlins RBI Softball ladies received expert instruction in a big league facility as well.
ICYMI – last month was awesome! Here’s to another awesome month in July.
As a child growing up in Indiana, Memorial Day Weekend meant two things to me: the end of school/start of summer, and the Indy 500. But, as I grew older and began to grasp it’s relevance, Memorial Day became one of the most meaningful days of the year to me. Today, as I pause to remember all of my fellow Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country, I will also pause to reflect on those moments, learning experiences and people that helped define Memorial Day for me.
I will never forget my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery. I was with my father, and I was in 6th grade. We stood in silence at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched as the soldier on guard paced back and forth…twenty one steps, twenty one seconds of stillness. That solemn routine, coupled with the uniformity of the white headstones lining the hills in all directions rocked me to my core. So began my journey of understanding the profound meaning of sacrifice and honor.
My visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor was another powerful experience. Everything I had learned in school about the events of December 7, 1941, came to life while standing above the final resting place of those who perished that fateful Sunday morning.
Another unforgettable moment happened while I was traveling home to spend Thanksgiving with my family last fall. While in Atlanta on layover, I glanced out the window and time suddenly stood still. My heart broke as a family stood at attention as they welcomed their loved one home…in a casket draped with an American flag. The reality of the ultimate sacrifice hit me like a ton of bricks. This soldier would not be celebrating Thanksgiving with his family. Instead, he gave his life defending our freedom, which among many things, meant fellow Americans (like me) could experience the peace and joy of family holidays.
During the Marlins Troops Visit in February, I witnessed time and time again another definition of sacrifice. While at Camp Patriot in Kuwait, I had dinner with Medic Dan from Ohio. During his deployment, he was sent home for his wife’s final days of pregnancy because the doctors weren’t sure she was going to survive childbirth. Days after she gave birth to a healthy son, her health stabilized and he traveled halfway around the world, back to where duty and commitment awaited him. Although he was blessed to be home for the birth, which many soldiers miss while deployed, he had to leave his wife to care for their new child as well as herself. A few nights later, I met a mom of a 5 year old boy. She said he was back home with her mother, and that she had been deployed overseas for over half of her young son’s life. That meant he is more familiar with a mom he sees on FaceTime or Skype, rather than a mom who tucks him in bed and kisses him goodnight. The sacrifice our servicemen and women make are all felt by spouses, parents and kids back home. They have to pick up the pieces and carry on as they anxiously await the return of their loved ones. Even if it’s temporary, it is still a sacrifice of time that they will never get back.
As my appreciation for Memorial Day has evolved over the years, so have my traditions. One is still watching the Indy 500 – I have many wonderful childhood memories that involve listening to or attending the race. The other is the Annual Memorial Day concert held in Washington, DC. This year, one of the honorees was fallen Army Ranger Kris Stonesifer. Kris was one of the first casualties in the war in Afghanistan. His mother, Ruth, found solace with the American Gold Star Mothers. She would go on to serve as the President of the organization, which built a unique Fisher House at Dover AFB for family members of fallen heroes. This Fisher House provides family members with a place to stay, grief counseling and other services as they await the return of their loved ones remains. The journey of Sergeant John Peck was also told. He survived not one put two life threatening attacks which left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury as well as a quad-amputee. He reminded me of one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, SGT Travis Mills (“Travis the Movie”). Travis was involved in an IED explosion in Afghanistan that resulted in him becoming a quad-amputee as well. Travis faced a harrowing recovery but he made a conscious decision to not just survive his injuries, but to LIVE his life for his wife and daughter. Less than six months after his accident, he completed the Tunnel to Towers run in NYC. Needless to say he is living life and he is currently working to open a fully accessible respite ranch for veterans and their families in Maine.
On this Memorial Day, I remember all of those who have sacrificed their life for our country and their family members they left behind. I also remember both of my Grandfathers who served during WWII: one in the Army, one in the Air Force. I honor my Uncle Bob who served in the Marines, my Uncle Ron who served in the Army and my Uncle John who served as an Officer in the Army in Vietnam. I honor my cousin Michael Smith, now retired, who served as an Army Ranger. I honor my cousin Kyle Trout, who also served in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. I honor my cousin Anthony Denkinger, who is currently at the Air Force Academy. I also honor my friend Dave Bruce, who recently returned from a deployment in SW Asia. And I honor one of my favorite people in the world, Arthur Rizer, an Army Captain who served in Iraq. They are my heroes. And they all make me so proud to be an American!