FOX Sports brings spring training to troops
FEB 21, 2013 1:58p ET
When I got the email that I was going to Germany I couldn’t have been happier, but I was also a little apprehensive. I had heard we would be doing physical training with the troops each morning and playing Wiffle ball—and let's just say I’m not the most athletic or graceful of people.
I was being sent to represent our region but was hoping beyond belief that I could keep up and not completely embarrass myself. My experience ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever been through and I am so honored to have afforded the opportunity to go.
After these few days of spending time with the troops I have a deeper understanding and respect not just for everyone serving in the military but also their families that stand with them.
Annilie, Liddy and I arrived around 9 a.m. in Nuremberg, Germany. We had traveled for hours and it was around 3 a.m. back in Atlanta, but Liddy and I hadn’t slept much on the plane. Anilie was the lucky one—she was able to sleep the entire time.
We were surprised to be so wide awake at this time of day. It must have been pure excitement and adrenaline keeping us going. At the airport, we had the warmest of welcomes from the troops that met us. Eventually, we gathered the entire group to head to U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr.
Arriving at Grafenwoehr was intimidating and beautiful all at the same time. The German countryside looked like the sort of pictures you see in travel brochures and coffee table books.
We checked into the hotel, received our itineraries, had a slight briefing and headed out to lunch with the troops. All of our meals were with soldiers and we tried to find people that were from our region. These were some of the most memorable and touching moments of the trip; we got the chance to speak one-on-one with the soldiers and learn more about their lives since joining the Army and how their lives have changed.
The girls and I listened intently as soldiers spoke about the weekend trips many of them planned to nearby countries, their families, their specialties, what they have previously achieved, where they have been and what being in the military means to them.
Next up we visited a middle school on base where the students could ask questions of some of the MLB players and alumni (David Justice, Heath Bell, Rollie Fingers) about their journey to make it to the major leagues. Liddy and I were there and had some fans, too, who wanted to know about what we did and who our favorite teams were, it was a little surreal to have so many young fans wanting us to sign everything from backpacks to tee shirts to cell phone cases.
The fun didn’t stop there, though.
We then moved to the baseball clinic where many of the students we saw earlier could actually engage and learn from our talented group of MLB stars. I helped out at the batting station but left most of the teaching up to my co-teachers David Justice, Tim Salmon and Wade Boggs. While the boys took care of teaching the students, I spent time speaking with the children waiting in line and their parents.
What really impressed me was the baseball love I was feeling from this group. It wasn’t just the children; the parents were huge fans as well. One of the student’s mothers started telling me how she was a huge David Justice fan years ago when he played with the Braves and how she never thought she would be in the same room with him and certainly never imagined her child would be taught by him firsthand. Bishara and Kayla arrived at the batting station a little while into the clinic—delayed due to flight complications—and jumped right in and started making friends with the children and parents, too.
After the clinic we were given a small break to get ready for dinner, and we needed it! I power-napped like crazy in those 40 precious minutes and got ready for a meet-and-greet at the Patton Fireside Lodge. At the dinner we met some of the commanders and soldiers that played a major part in us being there, and had the chance to draft our Wiffle ball teams. I was placed on Liddy’s team, the Black Scarves, even though I had warned her of my athletic “skills” ... at least I am good at cheering on the team.
At a certain point it was time to get back to the hotel and get some much needed sleep. After all, I did plan on being up and going for PT at an extremely early hour.
As soon as my alarm clock went off at 5:20 a.m., I immediately started to question why I had opted to do PT, but I knew I had come here to get the full experience and I was going to do this no matter what. I dragged myself out of bed, donned my warmest workout gear and headed out the door to a dark German morning that not only was draped in a fresh new layer of ice but featured snow coming down like crazy.
I may have mentioned that I’m not the most graceful of people, but I underestimated how hard it is to do PT and run on ice. It was fun, but I’m pretty sure one of the camera men has video of me falling over.
I was in Jenny and Danielle’s group for PT. Jenny is definitely the athletic one; she kept up with the group so well that it made me vow to add an extra session of Pilates to my weekly workouts.
Finishing PT, as opposed to quitting, really made me proud of myself and even prouder of the men and women out there that morning. They did this every morning and never once complained nor quit. The girls and I were given Challenge Coins for doing PT, and I’ll admit when I went to shake the soldier’s hand and received the coin I was not quite sure what was going on. I quickly realized this is one of the things I had heard about: the exchanging of coins. I grabbed one of the FOX coins to thank the man in return.
Simulations were later in the day and that was one of the craziest things to do!
We did a computer simulator where I got to drive a Humvee in what seemed like a video game, Orestes Destrade shot out of the top of the Humvee and two soldiers taught us how to go into combat. The funniest part of this simulator was that all of the FOX girls were driving the Humvees, so there were many jokes about the ability of our driving. Liddy even rear-ended me and a few of the girls (myself included) took out a few hostile trees along the way. However, I think the award for worst soldier goes to Luke Gregerson for shooting FOX Detroit girl Lauren accidently.
Our next two simulators included a shooting range and a rollover exercise. The rollover exercise was so much fun! Liddy, Jenny and I were placed in a modified Jeep that was rolled over to train soldiers on how to get out of an upside down vehicle. We didn’t get to try to get out of the Jeep but we did get to roll over twice, which was amazing and scary all at the same time.
After a short break we went to the physical fitness center for our much-anticipated Wiffle ball game where we were greeted not just by the soldiers playing alongside us but a huge crowd of spectators. I was so worried about being terrible at Wiffle ball, but, much to my surprise, I hit the ball when Wade Boggs pitched it to me! I don’t care that I was out as soon as someone caught it, I made contact. I actually hit the ball!
Even though I had a personal win our team didn’t have to same success and we lost and had to do 20 push-ups.
Our last full day in Grafenwoehr started with the Commander’s Challenge obstacle course, and it was intense. This is a five-mile course that has stations meant to put soldiers to the test. I was partnered with a great team of people who, thankfully, didn’t laugh at my inability to run the entire way.
We started off with a Humvee push, then moved on to a log carry and then to the extremely scary litter carry. I say it was scary because I was the one being carried on the litter and I was holding on for dear life.
Even though I had full faith in my team, there was a good amount of switching off who was carrying me and some severe height differences that made me a little on the nervous side for the mile run. After safely making it to the next station we were supposed to run with a gas mask—easier said than done—and I sat that one out, but watched as Liddy kept up in her constrictive and fogged up gas mask. In the end, my team came in second and I could not have been prouder of them. One of the soldiers taught me how to assemble and disassemble one of the M4s after the course and I have to commend those soldiers because doing that in freezing weather with cold hands is no picnic.
Next, we went to the Wounded Warriors center and this was probably the most touching memory that I have.
Some of the soldiers spoke about what had brought them to the center and their stories were haunting, but also really inspirational because they refused to let things get them down. One man had taken live rounds to the chest while another had shrapnel in his back, these types of wounds had stories that touched each one of us who visited and I will never forget the sacrifices that these men and women have made for our country.
Our last on-base activity was the Stryker ride to the 2nd Dragoon museum. The Stryker ride was amazing, cold and hilarious. Being in a Stryker with David Justice, Luke Gregerson and Jose Tolentino is one of the funniest things I have ever experienced. The three of them figured out that there was a radio to the other Strykers and had a field day with that.
When we arrived at the museum we were greeted with a great museum showcasing the history of the 2nd Dragoon. We were given a very thorough tour of the museum and even got to see soldiers dressed up in historically accurate uniforms from different time periods and battles.
We had our last dinner off base at a local microbrewery, which had amazing food and a delicious beer called Zoigl that they were known for. There were many toasts, goodbyes and thank yous exchanged over dinner and I was sad to leave that evening but was thankful that I was able to experience this.
Nothing could compare to the experience that the girls and I had out there and none of us could have anticipated the overly warm welcome we received from the troops stationed at Grafenwoehr.