ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- Dreams start as a childhood infection, growing over time into a lifelong addiction so deep they stain men’s souls and drive others into madness. They begin by slipping like a burglar into your wakeless nights, crouching in the dark corners of your mind before tiptoeing across your consciousness and slipping silently into your heart where they’ll remain - maybe for years, maybe forever. The only known cure for a dream is to chase it. To do otherwise is the first step in a slow drowning process - the first frenzied gulp of water on the way to the icy deep.
Navy Petty Officer Third Class Brent Booze, a Fleet Marine Force hospital corpsman serving aboard the USS Iwo Jima with Headquarters and Support Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), nearly drowned, his dream sinking just below the surface before being rescued by the Navy - only to go under again.
He’s wanted to play baseball for as long as he can remember and found a way at the age of 30 to resurrect his career with the All-Navy squad, earning a roster spot in March. However, he was forced to make a choice recently - follow his dream or stay with the MEU for an overseas deployment. For Booze, it was an easy call.
He was staying with the Marines.
“If I played baseball, because of a contract issue with the Navy, I wouldn’t have been able to extend my service or stay with the MEU,” explained Booze. “I’m going on the float because I have a good bond with my guys and I want to make the Navy my career.”
Booze said he was in agony after reading over the team’s schedule - a 56 game coast-to-coast tour featuring games against minor league and college teams, a nationally televised game on ESPN and two games in major league ballparks. He said that at the time, he “couldn’t believe it.” But Booze is a corpsman and enjoys serving his country.
“I don’t regret anything because I enjoy what I’m doing now,” added Booze. “People just don’t get to see what we see; they’ll never really know.”
For many, coming that close to a dream after watching it drift away would push the bounds of their sanity. But Booze said that because of his training as a corpsman, he feels he can sustain life, both medically and physically - something he’s been doing since he was a kid in Somerville, Texas, tossing pop flies to himself because he threw too hard for his brother, Brian, to play catch with him.
“My mother always thought I could do this. She said that I’m always trying to save people,” he said. “I just did what I did.”
After finishing his senior season at NCAA Division II Tarelton State with a .465 batting average, eight home runs and 65 runs batted in over 52 games, he felt that he was close to getting drafted by a major league club. The MLB draft came and went, and the only offer he received was a minor league contract with an Independent League team - a contract that didn’t offer enough money.
“I thought that it was time to hang it up,” said Booze who soon landed work as a catering director, only to find that his new career choice offered little long-term stability. “I wanted to do something great. When I went to the recruiter he said, ‘how about being an HM (hospital corpsman),’ but I didn’t know what that stood for. I looked it up right away and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”
Soon out of training, Booze read an article in a local base newspaper about playing baseball for the military. He searched for information about tryouts, trying to balance his work schedule with a chance to compete for the team. He felt that all he needed was a chance, saying “let them see me once. As long as they see me play, I know I have a chance.”
Booze trekked from Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N. C., on a St. Patrick Day’s 96-hour liberty period in March and dazzled the coaches at the Naval Base Norfolk, Va., tryouts. He was offered a spot on the team but had already completed most of the pre-deployment work-ups with the MEU. The Navy team is based on the West Coast and would have required a move to San Diego, Calif., and a change of unit - it would have also asked him to move from active duty to reserve.
Because of the circumstances, Booze has put his dream of playing baseball on hold, keeping in contact with the team’s coaches in anticipation of being able to play next year, after the MEU returns from deployment. For now, he’s focused on the mission at hand and his family back home that includes his wife, Diedre, whom he describes as a “very good, very strong woman.” He says that she was, “the first to tell me to play baseball and get it out of my system.”
In preparation for the future, Booze is staying in shape for a possible return to the field by trying to train as if he were playing - working forearms and legs while underway to keep his swing in shape and to maintain and improve upon his 87 mph fastball. However, no matter where in the world Brent Booze ends up, he will always dream of playing the game he loves.
“It’s the small things about the game. In college, I remember waking up and going to a fresh cut field, playing catch with the guys and just knowing that we were special,” said Booze. “It’s the purity of the game. It’s very, very innocent and it needs to stay that way.”
The 24th MEU last week began an expected six-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters of operations. The MEU is composed of its command element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and Marine Service Support Group 24.