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U.S. Soldiers Introduce Baseball to Iraqis
Sun Herald ^ | Sep. 19, 2004 | Associated Press

Posted on 09/19/2004 10:24:27 AM PDT by yonif

ALTUN KUPRI, Iraq - Gray-shirted Brusiks filled the bases in the final inning when the potential winning run strode to the plate - Kamaran Sabir, the team's 14-year-old slugger.

Kamaran clenched his teeth. The Nawruz pitcher, Diller Fakhraddin, stared back. Parents in the stands wrung their hands and shouted. Diller's fastball whizzed in, and Kamaran hacked.

Strike one. Strike two. Then, "Strike three!" yelled the umpire, U.S. Army Capt. Deron Haught. "You're out!"

And what may have been Iraq's first organized baseball game was over, with the red-shirted Nawruz - the Kurdish word for New Year's Day - beating Brusik, or Team Lightning, 10-7.

The teams of 13- to 17-year-old boys are the only two in Altun Kupri's new league, and Wednesday was opening day in this northern Iraqi village, a clutch of blocky buildings named for a 16th century Ottoman bridge that once spanned the Little Zab River here.

It was a perfect evening for baseball. Parents crunched pistachios to the ding of aluminum bats. Soldiers from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade stood guard at the soccer field-turned-ball diamond, with a Humvee parked at each outfield foul pole and another sitting just beyond the center field fence.

The youngsters - Kurds, Turkomen and one Arab - belted line drives, scooped up grounders - and booted a few, too. Parents cheered as their boys chased down fly balls and hurled them home, where overzealous runners were tagged out.

In most of Iraq, U.S. soldiers would stand little chance of organizing a baseball league, let alone setting up a public adress system and staging a game on a town's soccer field. But Altun Kupri, just south of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, lies in a friendly region. U.S. troops have never been attacked here and consider the town safe enough to trade in their helmets and body armor for T-shirts and ball caps.

The game provided close calls, hot arguments and tough breaks. One boy racing home from third base collided with the catcher, who tagged him out. Coaches and players stood the boy up, brushed him off and sent him to the bench with a few encouraging words, a red welt marking his chin.

One batter, 13-year-old Ferman Fredun, was hit in the ribs by a fastball.

"Ow," he yelled.

"Take your base," Haught shouted, and the boy trotted to first, managing a smile.

Haught, commander of a platoon that occupies a small base in this town 205 miles north of Baghdad, said the soldiers hope America's favorite pastime catches on in Iraq.

"I'd like to see one of them get a scholarship at West Virginia University and then go and play for the Pirates," said Haught, 37, a Pittsburgh fan who hails from Harrisville, W.Va.

It's not an impossible dream. Baseball has thrived in some countries where U.S. troops have deployed, including Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

"We'd like to welcome you to the first Iraqi baseball game," Haught told the curious crowd just before the town's mayor tossed out the first pitch. "This game has been played in America for over a hundred years and we want to share it with Altun Kupri and with this country."

The game proved a mystery to most.

"We've never seen this before, except on TV," said Ahso Abu Bakr, 50, watching his two sons - one on each team. "Hopefully we'll get used to this game and start learning it."

The idea for the league arose after Haught's soldiers began playing baseball among themselves. They made a ball from wadded paper wrapped in duct tape. An aluminum cot leg was the bat.

Haught said he mentioned the games to his sister back in West Virginia. "She felt bad. We were over here serving our country and we were playing baseball with a tape ball and a cot leg," he said. "So she started Operation Home Run."

Packages began arriving filled with baseballs, bats and gloves.

At the same time, the platoon was trying - and failing - to unify Altun Kupri's sports clubs, which are grouped, like the town, into Turkomen and Kurdish camps. So the soldiers started their own sports club and made it a baseball league. In July, Haught persuaded the city council to send over a few dozen kids.

He wasn't sure it would work. Iraqis play soccer and volleyball, sports that don't involve catching or throwing. But the kids picked up the basics.

The soldiers trained the best athletes as pitchers and catchers. Teaching hitting and fielding was easy. Baseball's rules proved tougher.

"Like, when you're on first, you have to run - but you can't outrun the guy ahead of you," Haught said.

With the final out on opening day, Diller, the winning 16-year-old pitcher, and his teammates poured off the field, their arms in the air, shouting "Nawruz, Nawruz!"

"I like this game. It's better than soccer," the lanky boy said.

Then the window of baseball-inspired magic closed. The soldiers strapped on their body armor, and humvee engines roared to life. Soccer balls appeared, and players began preparing the field for the evening match.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: baseball; iraq

1 posted on 09/19/2004 10:24:28 AM PDT by yonif
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To: yonif

Lets hope noone tells them about players unions.


2 posted on 09/19/2004 10:25:09 AM PDT by everitt12
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To: yonif

Cool!


3 posted on 09/19/2004 10:25:59 AM PDT by Darksheare (Freedom is worth ALL of our lives if it frees even ONE person.)
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To: everitt12

...or owners who take tax money from the public for ballparks when they have plenty of money to finance them themselves.


4 posted on 09/19/2004 10:27:08 AM PDT by Freepdonia (Victory is Ours!)
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To: yonif

Baseball breeds freedom. Except in Cuba, but, the best players manage to get into the US.

And as a courtesy: Go Braves!


5 posted on 09/19/2004 10:27:42 AM PDT by SeeRushToldU_So (Some days I am more rednecked than other days. Not there is anything wrong with that.)
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To: yonif
Let's introduce baseball to the Saudis.


6 posted on 09/19/2004 10:28:37 AM PDT by Alouette (Professionals built the Titanic...amateurs built the Ark)
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To: Saundra Duffy

Ping - great minds think alike.


7 posted on 09/19/2004 10:28:39 AM PDT by Enterprise (The left hates the Constitution. Islamic Fascism hates America. Natural allies.)
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To: yonif

""I like this game. It's better than soccer," the lanky boy said."

Well, there is hope for Iraq, after all.


8 posted on 09/19/2004 10:29:24 AM PDT by SoCal Pubbie
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To: everitt12

Beats whacking a bloody sheep's head around...on a donkey besides.


9 posted on 09/19/2004 10:29:53 AM PDT by Sacajaweau (God Bless Our Troops!!)
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"Soccer balls appeared, and players began preparing the field for the evening match."

Damn right.

Soccer.....The hearts and minds of the world!

10 posted on 09/19/2004 10:30:02 AM PDT by Jakarta ex-pat
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To: yonif
"I like this game. It's better than soccer," the lanky boy said.

The boy's a genius.

11 posted on 09/19/2004 10:31:20 AM PDT by radiohead (Burn in hell, Kerry.)
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To: yonif
well, hopefully they throw more like the guy on the left than the pansy on the right!
12 posted on 09/19/2004 10:35:00 AM PDT by Gerasimov (tag lines bore me)
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To: yonif

It's amazing to me how much these people hate us. /sarcasm off/


13 posted on 09/19/2004 10:35:38 AM PDT by netmilsmom (Does a clean house indicate that there is a broken computer in it?)
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To: yonif
"I like this game. It's better than soccer," the lanky boy said.

Ha,ha!

14 posted on 09/19/2004 10:40:39 AM PDT by JPJones ("We'll cross all our tee's and dot all our.....lower case j's")
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To: yonif
"I like this game. It's better than soccer," the lanky boy said.

Oh yeah!!

15 posted on 09/19/2004 10:42:26 AM PDT by EggsAckley (............."........let them go naked for a while".......scary Terri Kerry............)
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To: yonif

"All your base are belong to us!"(I couldn't resist)


16 posted on 09/19/2004 10:46:11 AM PDT by sheik yerbouty
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To: Alouette

Great stadium idea but I doubt the Saudi's would like a big old "Hebrew National" hotdog sign on the field.


17 posted on 09/19/2004 10:53:39 AM PDT by trashcanbred (Anti-social and anti-socialist)
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To: yonif
Bump for BASEBALL. America's game.


18 posted on 09/19/2004 11:02:01 AM PDT by baseballmom (You Know Where I Stand - GW Bush - 9/2/04 We're standing with you, Mr. President)
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To: yonif

We should introduce it to Palestinians as well; those rock-throwers need a healthy outlet.


19 posted on 09/19/2004 11:04:27 AM PDT by Mr. Mojo
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To: yonif
Baseball is now an Olympic sport, so maybe someday these kids can play on the Iraqi national team.

Baseball has also spread to countries that the U.S. never occupied, like Venezuela and Taiwan, and I think baseball caught on in Japan long before 1945.

20 posted on 09/19/2004 11:06:17 AM PDT by Verginius Rufus
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To: trashcanbred
I doubt the Saudi's would like a big old "Hebrew National" hotdog sign on the field.

Especially since it right where the Kaaba is right now.

21 posted on 09/19/2004 11:21:47 AM PDT by Alouette (Professionals built the Titanic...amateurs built the Ark)
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To: yonif
I'd like to see one of them get a scholarship at West Virginia University and then go and play for the Pirates

Where he will be summarily traded to the Giants after a few years at the Major League Level. :-)

22 posted on 09/19/2004 11:24:16 AM PDT by GOP_Raider (Conservative, Republican, Raiders Fan)
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To: yonif

I wonder why this wasn't reported by Blather, Brokejaw or Jerkings?


23 posted on 09/19/2004 11:32:38 AM PDT by Indie (Ignorance of the truth is no excuse for stupidity.)
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To: Indie

Because there's nothing in the story that advances their 'hate Bush'agenda.

(I know, it was a rhetorical question.)


24 posted on 09/19/2004 11:34:47 AM PDT by Riley (Need an experienced computer tech in the DC Metro area? I'm looking. Freepmail for details.)
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To: yonif

No pictures? :(


25 posted on 09/19/2004 11:35:38 AM PDT by diamond6 (Everyone who is for abortion has already been born. Ronald Reagan)
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To: diamond6

Team Nawruz pitcher Diller Fakhraddin, center, gloves in hand, celebrates a 10-7 victory with teammates at Altun Kupri, Northern Iraq (news - web sites), Wednesday Sept. 15, 2004. . In the rear is team's coach U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas Jones, from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division. Team shirts say 'Altun Kupri Baseball' in Arabic script. (AP Photo/Jim Krane)

26 posted on 09/19/2004 11:40:48 AM PDT by yonif ("So perish all Thine enemies, O the Lord" - Judges 5:31)
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To: yonif

Ahhhhhh this touches my heart! Thanks Yonif for posting the pic.


27 posted on 09/19/2004 11:44:23 AM PDT by diamond6 (Everyone who is for abortion has already been born. Ronald Reagan)
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To: yonif

The POWER hitter will be Barry BOMBS !!


28 posted on 09/19/2004 12:55:38 PM PDT by Renegade
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To: Alouette; All

Hey we might future Baseball big leaguer in this group one of these days play for NY Yankees or my local team LA Dodgers


29 posted on 09/19/2004 7:45:53 PM PDT by SevenofNine ("Not everybody , in it, for truth, justice, and the American way,"=Det Lennie Briscoe)
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To: everitt12; Poohbah; Howlin; PhiKapMom; Dog; Dog Gone; Long Cut; brewcrew; Grampa Dave; ...

Hey, I hope they use the DH over there... and Iraq seems like just the place for artifical turf as well. Let's see if we can't get a perfect baseball setup there (my only beef with the local minor league club is the lack of artificial turf - and yes, it was a sad day for baseball when the folks who made Astroturf went out of business).


30 posted on 09/21/2004 10:27:55 AM PDT by hchutch (I only eat dolphin-safe veal.)
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To: yonif

Now that is great.

It really is too bad that the MSM doesn't talk about more stuff like this. They always concentrate on the doom and gloom without giving even the slightest peek of the good stuff going on over there.


31 posted on 09/21/2004 10:34:38 AM PDT by William Martel (Anyone But Kerry in 2004.)
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