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Cannoncockers build miniature version of Fenway Park in Iraq

31 Aug 2004 | Cpl. Veronika R. Tuskowski

Captain Stephen Pritchard has the ultimate offer to the Boston Red Sox CEO, John Henry, and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

"If the Spring Training venue in Sarasota, Fla., ever proves to be untenable, then you are more than welcome to hold Spring Training here in Ar Ramadi, Iraq," said Pritchard, a logistics officer with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.

Why such a gracious offer?

Cannoncockers of 3rd Battalion 11th Marine Regiment constructed a miniature version of the Red Sox's Fenway Park at Camp Ramadi, Iraq.

"The Army here on base had their own baseball field, and we had to travel over there whenever we wanted to play," said Pritchard, from Weymouth, Mass. "So we cleared up an area and built one ourselves."

Pritchard provided the inspiration behind modeling the diamond after Boston's famous baseball park.

"I am a big Red Sox fan, and Fenway has the most famous left field fence in the Major Leagues," Pritchard said. "Not just that, but it is the most identifiable feature of any American sporting venue."

The Marines used over 200 panels of recycled wood to construct the outer fence of the field that reaches 290 feet to center field. They used old light poles as foul line poles and over 120 gallons of green paint. The left field has an unmistakable feature like Fenway: the "Green Monster," a 64-foot long and 18-foot high wall.

"It was a two-week project," said Cpl. Jason M. Samuels, 22, and an artillery mechanic with the unit. "Putting up the Green Monster was the hardest part. We built it on the ground and stood it up. We had 30 guys lifting it up and it was shifting and wobbling."

The field was named "Phelps Field" after Pfc. Chance Phelps, who was killed April 9 during combat operations in Iraq.  He was the only Marine the battalion lost while in Iraq.

Even though it is named "Phelps Field," Pritchard has nicknamed it Fenway East... as in Middle East.

And where would the mini-Fenway be if it weren't for advertising? The Marines paid $20 each to make advertisements along the fence. The funding goes to the unit's Marine Corps Ball in November.

Despite creating a likeness to Fenway, the real reason for building the field was to help the Marines through their seven-month-long deployment.

"I think by building this field we have provided all troops on this base an outlet for stress and tension," said Pritchard. "It gives them a chance to forget about the daily grind of the day and just enjoy some softball."

"I grew up with the Red Sox, so this field makes me feel like I am back home with American traditions," said Petty Officer 1st Class Fernald J. Darrin, a company chief with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14. "It makes you feel like you aren't in a war zone. It's a stress reliever."

"None of the Seabees can reach the Green monster," said Petty Officer 1st Class James Cochran, operations chief, NMCB-14. "But it's not about winning with us, we just come out here to heckle each other and have a good time."

Soon 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment will be heading back to the states and their replacements, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, will be coming to a fully furnished camp.

"This field is one of our capstones," said Pritchard, who keeps the field meticulously maintained. "This is a good start for the 2/11 Marines to pick up where we left off. We built this to try to erase some of the scars of the war, so if you stay here at Camp Ramadi for seven months it wouldn't be so bad."