By Emily Baker
Fort Hood Herald
Lois Osborne knew her husband would need something to help him unwind when he returned from a year in Iraq, so she turned to his boyhood dream of playing professional baseball.
Lt. Col. Craig Osborne had interest from the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers while he was a high school baseball player, but he chose to join the Army instead of playing professionally a decision that has kept him deployed for most of the last five years, including spending 2006 in Iraq as the commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
After Lois Osborne spent a month last year contacting 22 major league baseball teams for help, the Seattle Mariners agreed to allow Craig Osborne to attend fantasy baseball camp for a slim price about $1,500 including airfare compared to the usual $3,800 plus airfare.
He spent the last days of his block leave playing baseball with the Mariners and returned from the camp in Peoria, Ariz., on Friday.
"That was the most fun in a single week I've ever had," Craig Osborne said Monday. "It was the best way to end block leave I could have come up with. I spent some time with my family and visited the graves of our (more than a dozen) fallen soldiers and got to know their families. The last week was innocent, pure fun... It capped off the last year."
Osborne and about 45 others were coached by, played with and played against retired and current professional baseball players including Alvin Davis, Bill Caudill, Rick Rizzs, Gary Wheelock, Jay Buhner, Rich Amaral, Bob Stinson, Roy Thomas, Bill Krueger, Dave Heaverlo, Chris Bosio, Julio Cruz and Spike Owen, according to the camp's Web site.
Osborne played shortstop and pitched for his team. He hit a home run, though he attributed that more to his fast running than his hitting skills.
The fantasy-camp players received uniforms just like those worn by Mariners. Craig Osborne chose 22 as his number for the 22nd Infantry Regiment.
Each day of the camp was filled with baseball either playing it or listening to players tell stories about it.
"He would call home every night," Lois Osborne said. "He just sounded like a kid on the phone: 'You'll never believe who I met and what I did today.'"
Craig Osborne has been playing baseball since he was 4 years old. He said his mother always said she couldn't remember a time when he didn't have a ball in his hand. He met his wife of 20 years at a baseball game, and he always takes his baseball glove with him when he deploys for a stress-relieving game of catch with other soldiers.
"There is something very therapeutic about baseball, leather, cut grass and stadiums," he said.
That common thread brought together the 45 attendees to the camp, who became good friends over the week, Osborne said.
"For the most part, it was a bunch of guys acting like kids again," he said.
Craig Osborne came home with an autographed bat, a collection of autographed baseballs and baseball cards and the daily newsletter produced by the camp. He also received an autographed jersey from Jeffrey Leonard, who retired from the Mariners in 1990.
Each player gave a jersey to the most memorable player from the camp. Osborne received the jersey because people had discovered throughout the week that he is a soldier just back from an Iraq deployment. He received the camp's inspirational award for the same reason.
"Everyone was very supportive," Osborne said about his being a soldier. "They were appreciative of soldiers and our collective effort."
Osborne has been invited to a reunion game this summer in Seattle, where the camp attendees will receive their own baseball cards complete with photos and statistics from the camp. Osborne is not sure whether his schedule will allow him to attend, but his family is looking forward to receiving his baseball cards.
His wife is delighted the trip did accomplished its goal.
"Of all the things in the world that I know would have helped him to unwind and have a little bit of fun, it had to be baseball," Lois Osborne said. "It was a long and tough year for him, and this just seemed like the ideal way for him to immerse himself in something else. The players were so warm and welcoming of him. It was a really good thing."
Contact Emily Baker at email@example.com