Army visit has Red Sox flying high

Army visit has Red Sox flying high

TOKYO -- It isn't very often that you see baseball players in awe. Then again, it isn't every day that players get to ride in a Black Hawk helicopter over Tokyo en route to a U.S. Army Base called Camp Zama.

That was the field trip that Red Sox pitchers Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield (accompanied by wife Stacy), Mike Timlin (with son Jake) and Bryan Corey got to enjoy early Friday afternoon.

There were two 12-seat choppers, and they rode at an altitude of 1,000 feet, with a clear view of the towering buildings of Tokyo below, not to mention baseball fields, golf courses, mountains and other sights.

"My son was a little nervous, but I told him we were flying with the best in the world, so no worries," said Timlin. "That was my second [helicopter ride]. It was awesome. I had the video camera out, I was checking it out. The place is huge. It just goes on and on and on. We got a lot of video. It was pretty neat. I've never flown over a city before."

Once the helicopter landed at Camp Zama, the players loaded on to a small bus and took a ride to a gymnasium for a scheduled public event.

When Schilling boarded the bus just after the helicopter ride, he had the joy of a 12-year-old who had just been on a roller coaster.

"That was awesome," Schilling said to no one in particular.

A little while later, Schilling was still buzzing over the ride.

"That was very cool," Schilling said. "I dared them to try and make us sick on the way, and they couldn't do it. It was fun."

The soldiers were touched that the Red Sox would take time out of their day so soon after their 17-hour flight from Fort Myers, Fla.

"I've been in the army almost 25 years, and this is the biggest thrill of my entire career," said Kim Mondonedo, a Maine native who is based at Camp Zama under the title of U.S. Army deputy G1. "For me, personally, this is the coolest thing. And I'm sure the players are exhausted after the long flight last night. It's so meaningful, not just to the soldiers but to their families."

When the players walked in to the gym, the crowd of a couple of hundred shrieked with joy. The gym was packed with soldiers, their family members and civilians, as well as Japanese workers and their families. It was a holiday on the base, so many of the soldiers were in civilian clothes. The crowd roared when the Red Sox players entered.

Red Sox fan Bob DeYeso, whose title is U.S. Army G1, had the honor of introducing all the players to the crowd. He presented Schilling with a Torii Gate, which is a small wooden sculpture viewed as a shrine seen in most Japanese temples.

"This is a dream come true," said DeYeso. "When we heard the Sox were coming to play way back when, I asked the general, I said, 'We really need to get them out here.' We never thought they'd come. I know they flew in last night at midnight. Being a Sox fan, I was monitoring that. The fact that they're here today just speaks volumes of their character and all the support they've given to our community. That's just very nice. This is awesome, it really is."

All four players were presented with coins by the soldiers, which are viewed, according to one of the soldiers, as "something to be given for excellence."

The players then gave Red Sox jerseys to General Elbert Perkins and Colonel Robert Waltemeyer. The players later autographed the jerseys.

"Everybody watches these guys on TV," said Perkins. "Certainly since the Red Sox have signed so many good Japanese players, nearly every game is televised here. [There's] not only name recognition, but facial recognition also. Any time we get visitors like this out here, it's a great event."

The Red Sox made sure that it was a personal event. All four players sat at a table for roughly 45 minutes and did a meet and greet -- complete with autographs and photo poses -- with the soldiers, their family members, high school baseball players and others.

"It's an honor and a privilege for us to visit our troops and see the kids and sign autographs," Wakefield said. "It's pretty special. I'm just excited to be over here and to see a different culture. It was special to be able to go in the helicopter. It's crazy. But it's a lot of fun. My wife had never been in a helicopter before, so she was excited about it."

For the players who went, giving their time was not an issue.

"It was an honor," said Timlin. "These guys, they lay it out there. Just to have them do what they do, and to have a chance to come over here and shake their hand and say thanks personally means a lot."

Schilling, whose late father Cliff served in the Army, always relishes being in the presence of military personnel.

"To be able to say thank you to the men and women, especially the families stationed halfway around the world and serving our country, it's an honor and a privilege," Schilling said. "You talk about heroes and warriors and courage in sports a lot. It's a grossly overused word in what we do for a living. Being able to meet true heroes and warriors that serve our country is an honor, it really is."

After that, it was time for the helicopter ride back to Tokyo. Then, a bus ride to Tokyo Dome, where the Red Sox worked out in advance of their exhibition game on Saturday (Friday night in The States) against the Hanshin Tigers. The game can be watched live on MLB.TV, with first pitch set for Friday at 11:05 p.m ET.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.