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Going to bat for the troops

The Baltimore Sun

Two Anne Arundel County men who have joined a nationwide effort to collect baseball equipment for Americans serving in Iraq share more than the typical desire to cheer up the troops: They used to be in the military, too.

Duane Cordrey of Glen Burnie graduated from the Naval Academy in 1990 and served in Operation Desert Storm, while Mel Sykes of Annapolis has served in Vietnam, Germany and the United States.

Both understand the stresses - and boredom - of being overseas, and that's why they support the new effort started a few weeks ago by a Minnesota contractor in Iraq.

Ken Wickelgren, who plays in the national Men's Senior Baseball League, sent a note to league organizers urging them to donate bats, gloves, balls and other equipment to help American soldiers start a few baseball teams as well as to teach Iraqis about the game.

Sykes, who is in the 38-Plus Baltimore Area Senior Baseball Association, and Cordrey, who is president of the Chesapeake Senior Men's Baseball League, are working on getting players and teams to chip in.

"Mel and I are very passionate about this," said Cordrey, who works for Northrop Grumman. "There's a lot of equipment, but we have a lot of troops."

"I think we'll be able to support at least three teams, possibly more," Cordrey added.

To make things easier, Sykes, who is an attorney, said that he has a client who will pay for the shipment to Iraq. Sykes has compiled a rubberized home plate and a commitment for bats, balls and gloves. He's also working on getting helmets, spikes, bases and difficult-to-get catcher's equipment.

That's where Steve Sigler comes in. The national president of the New York-based Men's Senior Baseball League, which has about 44,000 participants in about 300 leagues, Sigler already has sent out two sets of catcher's equipment that Wickelgren recently received.

"It should be a morale booster for the troops," Sykes said. "I know [Wickelgren] wants to teach Iraqis to play. Winning the hearts and minds is what it's all about."

"We [should be] helping our servicemen in Iraq," Sigler said. "It's so sad that we have such a divided country on this. We're fighting terror. It's just another example, [and] anything that we can do to show support because they don't get much support."

In addition, having real baseball equipment will also let the soldiers serving so far away have something that reminds them of home.

"We all have a strong interest in helping the troops," Sykes said. "It's a small contribution, but at least it's something."

Equipment can be dropped off at Frozen Rope, 509 McCormick Drive in Glen Burnie. 410-590-1711.

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