- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

4th Infantry Division

Baghdad

I’ve done some pretty interesting things in 16 years in the Army - from jumping out of perfectly good airplanes to deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq (three actually). But I recently got the greatest assignment a soldier, who also happens to be a Red Sox fan, could dream of: I got to be Curt Schilling’s military escort during his USO trip to Baghdad.

I worship Curt Schilling for the Bloody Sock. As far as I am concerned, that sock demonstrated a level of guts and courage unprecedented in any athletic event since the beginning of world history. Yes, Papi made it possible by carrying us through games four and five, but to my mind it was the Sock that beat the Yankees and brought the world championship to Boston. I will have no argument about this.

There is always a danger when, as a fan, you meet someone you have idolized for years - a danger that he will disappoint you with some tragic flaw. He might be a high-maintenance snob. He might talk about himself incessantly. Or maybe, worst of all, his visit is some sort of publicity stunt.

It took less than three seconds with Big Schill to rid me of all my fears.

His excitement was genuine and palpable. He wanted to know where we were going, what units we were visiting, how long they had been deployed … every detail he could get. He climbed over every piece of equipment he could get his hands on, talked baseball with soldiers just returning from patrol, and played catch with an Army specialist who, despite not even being born when Curt threw his first professional pitch, has managed to spend two of the last three years of his life in combat.

He signed hats for wounded comrades who had been sent home, recorded Christmas videos for soldiers’ families and even talked a little smack about his personal abilities at Madden Football with the champion of one of the patrol bases. Soldiers loved him - for a number of reasons. First, he’s a genuine superstar who came to visit them - not a second tier guy or some pretty good guy, but the single most accomplished athlete to ever step foot in this combat zone.

Second, he can relate to them - as Curt said, there is no difference between locker room humor and foxhole humor. It is not subtle cocktail party humor, but full-contact ribbing that is a mark of acceptance and respect - you have to earn the right to be attacked by these people.

Finally, Curt Schilling is real. He’s not some PR prop who came with an agenda. He didn’t come to Iraq for accolades. He didn’t come to make a political statement. He didn’t come for himself. He came for them.

This point was driven home to me when Curt declined a live interview with a major sports network during the visit without hesitation. As he said: “I’ve done a million interviews and can do one when I get back, I’m only here for eight days and I’m not taking any time away from these soldiers.” He didn’t do it publicly; he didn’t do it to make the soldiers appreciate him more - none of them even knew about it. He did it because he wanted to spend every second he could with the people he came to visit, because for him this trip was about soldiers, not public relations.

I don’t know how the Baseball Writers Association of America will ultimately vote when Curt Schilling’s name appears on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. In baseball, more than any other sport, players are defined by numbers, and Curt’s numbers are close.

Cooperstown or not, at the end of the day I think Curt Schilling will take the greatest satisfaction from being the guy his teammates wanted to take the mound when the season was on the line. I hope he takes pride in being that someone we all wanted on our teams in October - because he’s a gamer, a workhorse, a winner. This I know for certain: There are hundreds of American soldiers on the front lines of combat in the worst city in the world who’d punch his ticket. He’s Hall of Fame in our book.

Maj. Michael Donahue is serving in the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad.

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