National Pastime in Afghanistan

Amateur baseball players keep the game alive while serving as Army specialist in Middle East. Kevin Bell (center) recruited fellow New Englanders and members of his 530th Engineer Detachment, including (from left) Joey Blais, Rusty Chesanek, Chris Elliott and Mike Bellizzi, to play ball.

U.S. Army Baseball Players

“What are you thankful for this holiday season?” It’s a question asked quite often this time of year. Of course, we’re all thankful for friends and family. But this year especially, I’m appreciative for what our troops continue to do overseas as they fight for our freedom back home. Perhaps that is because one guy I’ve played baseball with for seven years was noticeably missing this past season.

Kevin Bell, affectionately known as “K-Bell,” has played in the Boston Men’s Adult Baseball League since 2004. He began his amateur career with the Quincy Grays, swapped to the Boston Orioles in 2006, and found a home with the Boston Blue Jays in 2009. This past season, even though he was still listed on the Jays roster, K-Bell missed the entire baseball season to serve as a Specialist in the U.S. Army, a firefighter with the 530th Engineer Detachment stationed at Forward Operating Base Sakari Karez outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army has always been a part of K-Bell’s life. At the time of the 9-11 attacks, Kevin’s father Tim had already served 20 years in the Army. Bell was a freshman at Brockton High School where he tossed three no-hitters for the Boxers and was heavily recruited to play baseball for Boston College. He turned down this collegiate baseball opportunity and others to start a family and stay with them at home. Today, K-Bell is 6,579 miles from home, and a world away from his wife Abby, his 6-year old daughter Kaylee, and his 2-year old son Zack. His father is also home, having just retired from the service one month before his deployment.

It is only fitting that if Kevin isn’t throwing smoke in the MABL, he’s putting out fires in Afghanistan. Kevin explained via Facebook Chat from overseas:

“Other than playing for the Red Sox, becoming a fireman was just one of those childhood dream jobs that I’ve always had my heart set on doing. The Army was an easy decision with my Dad having served for 27 years.”

In the desert, Kevin and his 7-man unit are first responders in charge of reacting to whatever happens on the airfield, ranging from containing chemical spills, to putting out fuel fires, to reacting to medical emergencies. Through it all, Kevin is thankful for his family, and baseball.

“I follow Jays games and headlines on the website, and I still keep in touch with all the guys on Facebook and through email. I do still feel like part of the team. The guys all keep in touch and send me random messages just to see how I am doing out here.”

K-Bell added: “Baseball and family gets our minds off the obvious. Going out and throwing the ball around is a real good stress reliever. That and keeping in touch with my family since we’re not with them to help out with anything that goes on back home.”

K-Bell even brought the National Pastime with him to remind him of home.

“In coming out here, there was only so much room for personal items to bring. My glove and a bunch of baseballs made the trip with me. We don’t have any baseball bats, but we did manage to make our own using broom sticks.”

Kevin and the guys in his unit play baseball whenever they can. While Kevin is the member of his unit playing ball competitively back home, he was able to recruit Joey Blais of Campton, NH, Rusty Chesanek of Acworth, NH, Chris Elliott of Wilmington, MA, Mike Bellizzi of Candia, NH and Arron Rochette of Ashland, NH to join him for a Kandahar-take on sandlot ball.

U.S. Army baseball players throwing a ball in Afghanistan
U.S. Army baseball players throwing a ball in Afghanistan

“Some nights we pull the fire truck out and put the scene lights on so we can play catch. We have good games of Wiffle Ball and stickball a few nights a week. During the day, it usually doesn’t go much further than a game of catch, or throwing ground balls and stuff like that to each other.”

Kevin even kept up with the Boston Red Sox collapse, which he was able to follow from afar.

“Unfortunately we were able to keep up with the Sox in September. The fire inspector here is from New York and a Yankees fan, so he helped us keep up with it,” Kevin joked.

Of course, the Sox and Yankees are both home now with their families for the holidays, as are the rest of us local ballplayers. I’m thankful for guys like Kevin for allowing that freedom.

Friends and family are able to send care packages to the soldiers. It only takes about a week for packages to be delivered. At least one company, Axis Sports, recently sent real baseball bats to support the 530th EN DET once they heard Kevin’s story.

Lou Ledoux is the founder of Axis Sports, and often helps raise funds for troops and other worthy causes.

“After hearing about local guys playing baseball with broom sticks because they didn’t have baseball bats, I immediately cut bats for them and put their bats ahead of every order on our production schedule. We here at Axis are grateful for their service and want to show our appreciation.”

Axis Sports provided each soldier in Kevin’s unit a camouflaged bat. On top of that, Axis is supporting the USA Military All-Star Baseball Team, and is also working on a specific type of bat that will be used by Wounded Warriors, a non-profit that provides support to the families of those who have been wounded, injured or killed during combat operations. 

Meanwhile, K-Bell expects to return home next Spring.

“Neither Kaylee or Zack have made their way to Fenway Park, so hopefully next season when I’m home for good, that will be their first time. As for the Jays, I plan on being there Opening Day, ready to pitch.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *