Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Coming Home to the Rays

I’ll admit, when I first saw the Rays’ new season slogan I almost got emotional.

“Welcome Home”


Home means much more to me than usual as I conclude nearly 14 months in Afghanistan. Home is more than where I lay my head or rest my hat.  Home is where the heart is. Right now, although I’ve been 8,000 miles away, my heart is still in Florida. My heart is on the East Coast where my family lives and it is on the Gulf Coast where my friends are. It is in the places I frequented often, from the live music spots to the pro wrestling venues to, of course, Tropicana Field.

While most fans are coping from the cold, barren offseason, barely kept lukewarm by the hot stove, my fandom has been stuck in a Han Solo-like carbon freeze ever since Evan Longoria smacked a Scott Procter pitch over the left field wall to end the 2011 regular season.

Needless to say, I need to see a game soon. If the normal offseason gives withdrawals, then I am feening and jonesing like Leonardo DiCaprio in Basketball Diaries.

Making matters worse are all the spring training pictures friends are tweeting or posting on facebook. Bright clear skies, green grass, and the crisp newness of a fresh baseball season. As much as images of the Florida sunshine warms my heart, they make me yearn for home that much more.


I really think the Rays marketing people put their 2013 campaign together with me in mind. They did it on purpose to pull at my heartstrings. They knew I was gone for the 2012 season and they knew I would look forward not only to being back at the ballpark, but back being with friends and family. I don’t know how they knew, but they knew.

A few weeks ago, my boss asked me to name one thing I am looking forward to doing when I get back. I told him I can’t wait to sit in the bleachers with a hot dog and beer and watch a ballgame. I can’t wait to absorb the sights and sounds of baseball again. The crack of the bat, the sounds of fans giving the umpire hell, the eternal mental chess match between pitcher and batter, and hopefully at the end, the joy of jumping in jubilee after a game-winning hit.

When the winning run safely arrives at home.


As I close in on a month left in Afghanistan, I am not sure what the future holds when I get back to the states. I won’t have a job. I won’t have a place to live. I’ll be looking for both. I’ll also be looking for a new car and a new TV. Basically, I need to reboot and reload. That’s kinda scary. Every other time I’ve moved I’ve had a job waiting for me. But like a new baseball season, this is the beginning of a new chapter. As we don’t fear a new season, it is foolish for me to fear a new chapter.

Like Joe Maddon and the Rays front office, I can’t dwell on what I don’t have. As has been the Rays’ way since 2008, I have to win with the tools at my disposal. Time to stay smart and stay ahead of the competition. Maximize. Find a way. Think differently.

I do have a few things. I have friends, family, and my health. I also have a pocket full of experience, a shiny new resume, and the change in my pocket. And as an additional bonus, I have the recently completed rough draft of my first fictional novel. (Coming soon.)

Instead of the free spending opponents the Rays face, my opponent is the opposite: severe budget cuts, the specter of another recession, and the Tampa Bay area’s renown depressed job market. Those are a few of the reasons many private employees try to stay in Afghanistan, not only to help the cause, but because of they have jobs. But as you can read in the newspaper, that gravy train is coming to an end. And besides, I miss home too much.

And although looking for a job and a place to live is the priority, even if I end up living in the makeshift homeless camp under the Gandy Bridge (if it is still there), I know I still have to make it back to Tropicana Field.

As the Rays say in one of their new promotional photos,

“They Say You Always Find Your Way Home … We’ll Be Waiting”