Marlins' John Baker visits Iraq

February 12, 2010 7:57:43 PM PST
John Baker grew up in the East Bay and has made it all the way to the major leagues as a catcher with the Florida Marlins. Baker is getting ready for spring training, having just returned from the trip of a lifetime half-a-world away.

It is more than 7,000 miles from the Bay Area to Iraq, but as Baker learned quickly, the regions are really light years apart.

Baker is a former De La Salle High School and Cal star who went on a goodwill mission to visit the U.S. troops. He says it was an eye-opening experience.

"These guys walk around carrying machine guns and rifles all day, even when they walk on base to the gym, they've got their rifle with them, and I think that was kind of a scary realization," said Baker.

Scary is riding in a mine-resistant vehicle called an M-RAP, hoping you get out of the desert darkness alive.

"Feeling the bumps of the desert and it's at night and it's dark, and there's kind of a red-washed light in this thing that we're in, that was kind of creepy because I'm looking out and thinking anything can happen here," said Baker.

Baker and the Marlins visited bases in Iraq and Kuwait.

It was also a trip that had its share of funny moments, thanks to rookie of the year Chris Coghlan, who learned firsthand how the canine unit operates as he got tackled down to the ground.

When the week-long tour was over, Baker came away with a new-found appreciation of our armed forces.

"They are the people that are sacrificing, and I keep going back to it because I have the feeling now that my life was on the line, but they do it every day. They cherish what they do and they love what they do and they don't want us to feel sorry for them," said Baker.

Back in the suburban sanctuary of Danville, Baker's wife Meghan was relieved when John returned home -- a trip that made them realize how lucky they are.

"The biggest worry for some of us some mornings is the Starbucks line took so long and people are upset about that, where he's been in places that, you know, it just makes you take everything with a different perspective," said Maghan.

One of the things Baker said that baseball players are used to being idolized, they perform in pressure situations, but he realized the armed forces are under real pressure and are the real heroes. He said he would go back in a second because it was such a worthwhile experience.