Motivational chants filled Friday’s early-morning run at Fort Bragg U.S. Army post in North Carolina, the world’s largest Army installation.
Marlins reliever Mike Dunn found himself in the thick of it trying to keep up during the 2.1 miles.
"All the soldiers are chanting — that was a lot of fun — but they were also next to me saying, ‘We need to pick up the pace,’" said Dunn, who found out they usually run four miles in those instances. "We tried to chant with them and there was no chance."
This week, Dunn took part in FOX Sports’ Spring Training to the Troops.
The tour, which began on Wednesday, allowed baseball players and FOX talent to immerse themselves within the nation’s armed services while also thanking them for their service.
On Wednesday, for example, Dunn woke up at 4:30 a.m. for the start of Physical Readiness Training (PRT). That included a one-mile run at an 8.5-minute pace.
Afterwards, he did a brief Q&A with students from Albritton Jr. High before handing out Louisville Slugger demo bats.
Dunn, who signed a one-year deal to avoid arbitration this offseason, then fielded questions from the school’s baseball and softball players after signing autographs and taking photos. One kid asked each member of the panel whether quitting the sport he loved ever crossed his mind.
"Everybody kind of answered that question in their own way," Dunn said. "I told them there were times. It’s not like once you sign with a professional team you’re going straight to the big leagues. The minor leagues is tough, and there were times I was on the phone calling my dad asking, ‘What am I doing? Why am I here?’
"It definitely crosses your mind, but when you have the desire to do something and you always have that burning desire you never want to give up and see the end. You want to push and push and push."
For lunch, Dunn and the others visited with some of the post’s nearly 60,000 active-duty soldiers. They competed in a parachute-packing race, in which Dunn finished second.
The learning didn’t stop there. On the next stop, the group applied tourniquets and bandages before tackling an obstacle course that featured a barbed wire crawl through mud.
Before dinner, the players held a clinic with four stations: Dunn and former big leaguer Chris Hammond taught kids how to pitch, Rays righty Chris Archer instructed them how to throw, retired Major Leaguer Jose Tolentino showed the youngsters proper batting technique and players-turned-announcers Rex Hudler and Dave Nelson showed fielding fundamentals.
By Thursday, Dunn and the others had once again woken up early for Crossfit training. Then there was a whiffle ball game. Before departing on Friday, they ran another 2.1 miles.
#FOXSportsSalutes isn’t the first time Dunn has expressed his gratitude to the military.
The 28-year-old southpaw originally planned to travel with the Marlins organization to Japan, Guam and Hawaii in 2011, but he had to pull out at the last minute when he learned his wife was pregnant.
Marlins pitcher Mike Dunn participates in a physical readiness trainiing session during a visit to 108th Military Police Company, 503rd MP Battalion at Fort Bragg.
Instead, Dunn involved himself in the "Little Warrior Project," which brings children from military families to Marlins Park each Monday. The children and their families had field access, where they met with Dunn and watched batting practice.
That idea came to Dunn in 2012 when he and his teammates spent an afternoon with Shake-a-Leg, which is a not-for-profit organization working with both children and adults with physical, developmental and economic challenges in a marine environment.
"You always want to try and find something," said Dunn, whose wife has cousins in the military. "We spent four-to-five hours on a boat with those guys and getting to know them and talk to them, hearing their stories, it really touched home to me.
"That was when I really decided that was the route I wanted to go with the Wounded Warriors or families. I think that’s kind of why I sided with them because it covers all of that. It’s more focused based on the families and kids, but you also honor the Wounded Warriors as well."
Back at Fort Bragg, N.C., Dunn asked questions to fully appreciate the busy schedule servicemen and servicewomen must follow.
A few of the generals told Dunn that some of them memorize upwards of 90 pages of information as part of their jobs. That’s on top of all the PRT work.
"These guys are getting up before the sun, working out, doing all their stuff, then they have to do their daily job whether it be repairing vehicles or working on drones or going to pack chutes," Dunn said.
"It’s a tough lifestyle because they have to do that every day. That just shows the dedication they have to what they’re doing."