As spring draws near, the "boys of summer" usually spend their time doing drills or batting practice in preparation for the 162-game Major League Baseball season.
However, the Florida Marlins ball club sent a few of its members on a week-long tour of Iraq to visit service members, Department of Defense civilians and contractors deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins team manager, Larry Beinfest, president of baseball operations, John Baker, a catcher for the ball club, Chris Coghlan the National League Rookie of the Year left fielder, and four stunning ladies of the Marlins Mermaids -- Carin Luna, Estefania Ruiz, Natalie Guzman, and Christina Villamizar -- visited the USO on Contingency Operating Base Basra Jan. 30.
The group laughed and joked with fans, while signing autographs and baseballs for all who visited.
"It's been great to be able to come here," said Coghlan. "We've visited nine bases thus far and one of the nicer experiences we've had was being able to go to the smaller bases and meet those Soldiers who've said that they haven't had any visitors."
Baker and Coghlan have relatives who served in the Armed Forces. Coghlan's brother is a Marine and served two tours in Iraq, while Baker has retired Army members sprinkled throughout his family.
Finishing second in the National League East behind the Philadelphia Phillies, Coghlan is very optimistic about the Marlins' chances this season.
"I feel like we're in a good position to have a great season this year," Coghlan said. "We are returning a lot a starters which will give us that extra experience needed come playoff time."
Just like the hot dog lines at ball parks across the U.S., the lines at the USO were a bit long, but the wait wasn't. Each person was able to spend a few moments chatting with the Marlins group while having their picture taken or getting a picture autographed.
"It takes away all of the stress of being out here," said Pvt. Michael W. Hines, 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, network administrator.
Many Soldiers from the newly arrived 1st Infantry Division met with the Sunshine State guests, pausing briefly from their preparations to assume command of United States Division-South.
"We've trained for so long for this mission and are ready to get started, but it's nice to know that the USO offers a brief escape by connecting Soldiers with guests like these from back home," said Sgt. Robert W. Maston, 1st Inf. Div., signal intelligence analyst and native of St. Marys, W.Va.
Later that evening, the Mermaids put on a performance for all the service members, while the players enjoyed the show and talked more baseball with the fans.
"It's nice to be able to thank these Soldiers in person for all that they do for our country," Coghlan said. "Really, I feel that we are walking away winners."