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thedrifter
05-16-08, 07:08 AM
Last modified Thursday, May 15, 2008 5:09 PM PDT
NCT

MILITARY: Holding onto the dream

By MARK WALKER - Staff Writer

Editor's note: Staff writer Mark Walker is traveling in the Middle East with Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Helland, commander of Camp Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force.

TAQADDUM AIR BASE, IRAQ ---- Despite being half a world away from a baseball diamond, Marine Lance Cpl. Scott Halisky is holding onto his dream of a professional baseball career.

During his working hours, Halisky is a member of a reserve platoon from Georgia that has the solemn task of helping to identify and prepare the remains of troops killed in action for return to their families in the U.S.

When he's off duty, he works on his change-up, slider and curve ball.

"My fastball and my location are fine," Halisky said Thursday. "I'm just trying to get my other pitches to be as good as they can."

Halisky spent one year pitching for the Baltimore Orioles minor league team in Sarasota, Fla. That was in 1999, and now the 30-year-old says he wants one more shot at a pro baseball career.

"I'm just hoping that after I get home I can make contact with a scout or an organization willing to take a look at me," he said. "I think my arm is still good enough to have a shot."

There's no baseball team or diamond at this air base, so Halisky has convinced another Marine to act as his personal trainer and catcher.

That Marine is catching what Halisky says is a 90 to 92 mph fastball. But not with a catcher's mitt ---- he has to use the only glove available, and that's an oversized softball glove with no extra padding.

Halisky said that practicing his pitching also provides a kind of relief from the stress associated with identifying body parts and assembling the personal belongings of troops killed in combat.

He's been part of the team that does that work since shortly after the first of the year. The unit has had to perform its grim task 10 times.

When the body is ready for shipment, all activity on this bustling base stops.

A flag-draped casket is brought to the airfield and loaded aboard a cargo plane, and a Marine escort will accompany the body back to the United States to the family of the deceased.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or mlwalker@nctimes.com.

Ellie