Asha recaps Spring Training to the Troops trip

BY foxsports • February 19, 2014

Asha considers herself to be in pretty good shape, but halfway through the 18th Fires Brigade's morning jog, she needed to peel off from the pack and take a quick breather.

"Turns out that they take the 'no man left behind' thing pretty seriously," she said with a laugh. "I thought I had snuck away, but then I looked over my shoulder and saw the sergeant jogging in place next to me. 'Let's go,' he said."

Asha recently travelled to Fort Bragg, N.C. for the 2nd annual Spring Training to the Troops weekend, a program that partners Fox Sports Girls from across the country with some of baseball's stars: a team that visits and entertains servicemen at bases in the United States and abroad ("Don't call it a base!" Asha says, "That's the term Marines use. In the Army, it's 'installation.'").

The Girls had a whirlwind of a trip. Along with crack-of-dawn physical training with a different unit each day, activities ranged from parachute simulation to first aid training to visiting kids at the on-site middle school.

"Oh my gosh, the kids were just so cute and well behaved. I was there with (Tampa Bay starter) Chris Anderson, who's from North Carolina originally, and they absolutely loved him. He did such a great job using baseball as a metaphor for life in terms of facing adversity and trying your hardest. It was so cool to interact with the kids because, most times, you don't really think about the impact that military service has on families, but these kids don't see their dads or moms for months at a time, and anything we can do to bring them happiness is incredible to me," Asha said.

Doing difficult drills like the Medical Evac obstacle course gave Asha a great appreciation for the fitness and training of our soldiers, but in the end, her favorite moments were everyday interactions with people that she deeply respects.

"We were serving the guys breakfast, and we'd get into this back-and-forth of 'thank you.' They'd say, 'Thank you,' and I would be like, 'Are you serious? Thank you! I'm here for a weekend and you're protecting us as your job!"  

Some moments were almost too powerful for Asha to express fully.

"It was Friday, and we were about to go on what they call the Payday Run, the sergeant major asked the unit for everybody to raise their hands who had joined after 2002. You should've seen the number of people that raised their hands. It gave me chills. You realize that they're here voluntarily, of course we don't have a draft anymore, so we rely on people with this mindset of unselfishness that very few people can understand," she said.  

Asha, more than most, has firsthand knowledge of such a mindset. Her great grandfather fought in World War I, her grandfather fought in WWII, and although she has no brothers, three of her closest cousins serve as well. Since she's been a FOX Sports West Girl, Asha has had four opportunities to visit the armed forces as an ambassador of sport, and she's taken advantage of every single one. Last year, the Spring Training event took the Girls to an installation in Germany, (an experience that Asha believes to be one of the highlights of her career) though for her, the event this year in the states holds a special place in her heart.

"I think of it as a small way of giving back. But, honestly, it doesn't feel like 'giving back' because of how much fun it is. It's not a chore, it's not something I absolutely have to do for my job; it's something that I love doing and I'm so happy that I have the opportunity to participate," she said.

New faces this year included Royce Clayton, who played 11 years for 11 MLB teams, and with whom Asha shared a lot in common, coming from the same part of Los Angeles. She also had a great time getting to know Marlin's relief pitcher Mike Dunn, although she doesn't know how much he trusts her now after he and Amy (from Fox Sports North) had a friendly-fire incident with a paintball gun.

"I don't know why she was chosen to hold the gun," Asha says with a chuckle, "but Chris (Anderson) took it from her, and when she tried to take it back, it went off. So essentially Mike takes a paintball square in the back from his own teammate in the exercise. He was pretty upset with Amy and I was right next to her, but by the end we were laughing about it. I'm just really glad that Amy isn't in the Army."

The weekend also presented the opportunity to catch-up with old friends from the previous Spring Training event.

"Jose Tolentino (Spanish language broadcaster for the Angels and former Astros first baseman) is seriously the best. He went last year to Germany so this time I kinda knew what to expect, but he's got this huge personality. You gotta spend time with him. He's crazy in the best way and the troops loved it," she said.

In addition, Asha was happy to have the chance to hang out with Fox Sports Girls from other regions, especially Kayla from Midwest and Annilie from Florida, both of whom she'd travelled with previously.

"Really, this is such a great program that we do and it makes me proud that Fox Sports has such a great relationship with the military," she starts, "Yes, most of the soldiers are type-A guys, so of course they like sports, but it's more than that. It's an escape, it's that little bit of normalcy or piece of home. And I'm proud that I can play a role in providing that."

For Asha, her experience bringing Spring Training to the Troops goes beyond the activities and meeting the athletes. It's about connecting with people on a human level and expressing her gratitude for the life she's able to lead in the land of the free.

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