An Angel fan in Afghanistan

Oct 15 2009 - 5:45pm

NEW YORK -- His buddies had taken over all the television sets. It was game day in the NFL, and Michael Turner was scrambling to keep up with his Los Angeles Angels.

His only option was his computer. He was hunched over the screen, reading that Vladimir Guerrero had put the ball in play, watching an arc that represented the ball flying from home plate toward center field.

"I started yelling, 'Drop, drop, drop!' " Turner said. "Finally, it did."

Guerrero had gotten the game-winning hit. The Angels had vanquished the Boston Red Sox. Turner could go to sleep with a smile on his face.

In Los Angeles, the game ended early Sunday afternoon. In Afghanistan, the game ended after midnight Monday.

Turner landed in Kabul two months ago, the latest stop in an Army career that has included a tour of duty in Iraq. He is a lieutenant colonel, in charge of an intelligence unit that scrutinizes data from computers and cell phones for information that could guide soldiers on their missions.

He also is an Angels fan, from way back. He was born to a father who was a huge Gene Autry fan, one month before Autry bought himself a baseball team.

Turner, 48, attended Kennedy High School in the Granada Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles -- "right after Jim Anderson and right before Garret Anderson," he said -- before moving to Kansas.

The Angels went with him, wherever he went, if he could find them. In 1984, when he served in Germany, no one had imagined following a game on a computer, and the Armed Forces Network aired but one channel.

"Rarely sports," he said.

He doesn't miss a thing these days. The Armed Forces Network airs 10 channels. He has ESPN, and the Internet, and a worldwide community of fans on the angelswin.com message board.

He gets home now and again. He saw the Angels play last season in Texas.

"Erick Aybar hit a home run," Turner said. "I was right below the press box. I yelled up at Rex Hudler."

Hudler yelled back. No surprise.

"We had a conversation, for a little bit," Turner said.

Turner wasn't sure what to expect in Afghanistan. The terrain reminded him of California's Victorville and Barstow, of the high desert and looming mountain ranges.

He hasn't seen much of Kabul, the capital city. It's not safe to walk off the base, for instance, and buy food from a street vendor. But, in the places he has gone, he has sensed a deep appreciation for the widely debated American presence there.

"All the interactions I have with the Afghan people are positive," he said. "They're glad we're here. They understand what we're doing.

"The mouthpieces are not always the common people of Afghanistan."

The military dress code does not permit him to wear Angels gear, even on base. The men there might not know he is an Angels fan, until they wander into his office and spot the poster, the one with the picture of Angel Stadium.

Or until the playoffs roll around, and loyalties emerge around the television.

"The Red Sox fans haven't talked to me since all this happened," Turner said.

And the Yankee fans?

"I'm not sure which ones are the Yankee fans," he said. "I'll wait to find out in Game 1."

That would be Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, scheduled to start at late Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, early Saturday morning in Kabul.

For Turner, a normal work day starts at 7:30 a.m. and extends to 11 p.m. He would not dream of missing Game 1.

"I will only have to get up two hours earlier than normal," he said.

As we wrapped up our telephone call, we asked him if he had any words to pass along to the Angels, from half a world away. His first two words were rather fitting.

"Keep fighting," Turner said. "We're going to do it this year. Hopefully we do it against the Dodgers."

 

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