Marlins prepare for trip to Iraq and Kuwait 

Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez has packed a dozen balls and a glove for the organization's upcoming tour of Iraq and Kuwait.

"You never know. Maybe we'll do a little scouting trip while we're there," Gonzalez said with a chuckle Friday.

The more serious goal is to spread some goodwill among the troops. Joining Gonzalez will be NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, catcher John Baker, president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest and four members of the team's Mermaids dance crew.

The group flies Sunday from Washington to Kuwait. The Marlins say the weeklong trip, sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment, is the first of its kind for a major league club since the Iraq war began.

The Marlins said they'll be ready to play catch, pass out souvenirs or share stories about life in the majors — whatever helps the troops take their minds off the war.

Gonzalez conceded he's a little anxious.

"We're not going to Disney World," he said. "The percentage of stuff that can happen is slim. But there is some nervousness on my part."

Coghlan and Baker both have relatives with military backgrounds. Coghlan's brother spent four years with the Marine Corps in Iraq before returning to the United States, where he's now enrolled in junior college.

"This trip isn't for us, but when we walk away we'll probably get more out of it than we ever thought we would," Coghlan said. "Those guys over there are the real heroes. I'm able to fully understand that with my own brother, the closest person in my life, putting his life on the line."

Baker's family includes a grandfather who served in World War II and two cousins recently retired from the Marine Corps. He said he has received much positive feedback from relatives about making the trip to visit the troops.

"Just being a civilian, not even a baseball player, and heading over to see these men and women is a positive thing," Baker said. "It brings a slice of home and America to them."

The Marlins have few details regarding their itinerary, and Gonzalez joked it's classified. But Coghlan said he received a scouting report from his brother about what to expect.

"We don't know exactly where we're going. It's still confidential for security purposes," Coghlan said. "But he said, 'More than likely you're going to go to the bases. It's going to be real safe.' He said, 'You'll be amazed to realize how supportive they are and thankful for you coming.' He said, 'They just want to take their minds off fighting.'"

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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