(This blog entry originally appeared on Memorial Day 2010)
PawSox strength coach Mike Roose is not only a native of Pawtucket – he was born on perhaps the most important day in PawSox history.
“I was born at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket on June 23, 1981 – the day they finished the Longest Game in Baseball History,” Roose told me. “It was something that I thought was really cool as a kid and it made my love for baseball grow even more. How ironic is it that I was born on that day a few hundred yards from McCoy Stadium and now I’m working for the team? There are a lot of signs that God puts in front of you – maybe I was destined to be in baseball.”
But Roose took an unusual path to working in the Red Sox organization. In 2002, he joined the Air Force and spent four years serving our country.
“It was 9/11 – that’s what inspired me to serve,” Roose said. “I was going through a time in my life where I felt like I wasn’t making a difference and the timing was right. It just kind of clicked and I felt like that was the right thing to do at that point in my life.”
Roose was 21-years-old when he reported to basic training in San Antonio. After being stationed in Valdosta, Georgia he was sent to Iraq for the first time.
“I was in my unit for four or five days and I didn’t know anybody, and they said, ‘You’re going overseas.’ My head was spinning. Everything happened so fast and when we hit the ground we were actually in an undisclosed location setting up for the invasion. We went in and ended up guarding an airfield in Western Iraq. As far as the eye could see it was desert. We ended up staying there for about a month and after that we went to Afghanistan. We ended up staying there for about six months. That was my first tour. It was a great experience – the best thing I ever did. I wouldn’t take anything back because I learned a lot about life and learned to appreciate everything. When you go without running water, a bed, and the bare necessities that we don’t think about here in the States, you put things in a different perspective. It makes you realize what’s really important. And when you have missiles and land mines blowing up all around you, you think about things a little bit differently.”
Mike served four tours of duty in Iraq and was in Baghdad when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein.
“It was surreal,” Roose said. “It’s one of those things that you think is mythical. It’s like the Pyramids of Egypt – until you see them they don’t seem real. But Hussein is just a man. He’s flesh and blood and I saw emotions like fear and cowardice. It’s something that I’ll never forget and I’m glad we took care of him, but there’s a lot more stuff over there that needs to be done.”
Two soldiers that served with Mike in Iraq attended a PawSox game in Durham and told me that he was legendary in their unit for his love of baseball.
“It’s what I’ve loved my whole life,” Roose said. “I used to come to McCoy Stadium as a little kid. We moved away for a little while during my adolescence, but baseball has always been there for me. You have to be tough to play this game and people in New England pride themselves on being tough. Overseas when we were in the desert, that was the one thing that kind of kept me going. I would check the box scores when I had access to the internet and when I got to see some highlights I was pumped. I even put some sandlot games together – literally sandlot in the middle of the desert. We used ax handles for bats and made a ball out of tape and got as many guys as we could. That’s an awesome memory.”
It’s one of many memories that will undoubtedly cross his mind on this Memorial Day as we pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving our country.
“Memorial Day means everything for this country – and not just because of the guys that have served recently,” Roose said. “We have previous generations that served in World War I, World War II, Vietnam . . . without those guys we wouldn’t have what we have today. It gets me up in the morning – maybe I don’t think about it every morning – but on Memorial Day morning I’m definitely going to try to live the right way and live in their honor.”