BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- “When he first checked in, we heard he played major league baseball, but we thought it was a joke,” said Sgt. Gilbert Alvelo, platoon sergeant, motor transport, Headquarters Company, 6th Marine Regiment.
Private First Class Jose M. Nunez, now serving his country here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, has a major league history, and it’s no joke.
The 27-year-old vehicle operator started playing baseball at George Washington High School in New York. After a year there, Nunez transferred to Conrad Gables High School in Miami, where he played for two years. He also played in a league outside of the school system.
Not happy with the amount of time he was spending in the game, Nunez began to search for another place to play ball. That’s when the coach from Miami Jackson High School approached him, offering a spot on the team.
“He gave me a shot,” the new Miami Jackson short stop said, so he transferred to the school and started playing ball there.
While playing his senior year at Miami Jackson and continuing play in the local baseball league, Nunez had attracted some Major League attention and was soon drafted by the New York Mets in 1996.
“They saw me playing and decided to put me in the draft. I started in the rookie league and moved up to low A ball,” he said.
The Mets later gave him a chance at some AA league ball, and a shot at the majors.
“I played 17 or 18 games for the Mets in the big league,” he stated nonchalantly.
But his baseball career doesn’t come into play when it comes to the Marine Corps. “When we work, it’s not about baseball; it’s about motor transport. We get the job done,” Alvelo said. “He doesn’t get special treatment because he was a ball player.”
After his time with the Mets, Nunez was traded to play minor league ball with the Baltimore Orioles in late 1997.
Throughout his career, he also played winter ball, in Canada, Belgium, Europe, Mexico and Columbia. Winter ball is baseball played during the off-season so players can stay in shape and keep training, Nunez explained.
But something went wrong.
Nunez injured his hamstring, and took five months off from baseball to recover.
“I couldn’t even walk,” he recalled.
After what he described as a good recovery, the baseball trainers tested his hamstring and decided to suspend his contract. Nunez was sent home.
He didn’t blame the team and said it was the logical thing to do. “Why take an injured player in his late 20’s when you can get a fresh, 18-year-old player?”
After about a year and a half relaxing at home, Nunez started to talk to his cousin who was serving in the Marine Corps.
After offers from the Army and the Navy, Nunez said, “the Marines was the right decision.”
“I joined the Marines because it was a challenge, and I like to be challenged,” Nunez said.
With hopes of playing baseball for the Marine Corps, he still keeps with the reality of the Corps, Alvelo said.
“I get to learn a lot of stuff: how to shoot a rifle, combat training, martial arts and how to survive,” Nunez said.
The Corps also gave him the chance to attend college and provide his wife, Sandra, with a college education.
After returning from his current deployment to Afghanistan, Nunez plans on trying to play ball again, this time for the Corps. If he can’t play baseball, Nunez said any sport would do. “I love sports,” he added.
“I can see Nunez as a good leader,” Alvelo said. “If I give him some responsibility, he will take it and surpass my expectations.”
“He takes his work seriously. He has good initiative and good judgment,” he added. This is why the section recommended Nunez for meritorious promotion to the rank of lance corporal.
“He is one private first class I expect not to mess up,” Alvelo said.
When he isn’t turning wrenches or turning double plays, Nunez enjoys spending time with his two-year-old son, Mario.
“It’s not easy being a father in the Marine Corps. I’m in Afghanistan without my wife and kid,” he said.
But when Nunez is in garrison, Mario gets plenty of attention from his father. “I always like to lay with him. We go to the park and I take him to my games,” Nunez said.
“Nunez is a good man. He’s done things most people only dream of, and it doesn’t go to his head. He works hard for himself. He’s responsible and takes care of his wife and kid. And he’s always eager to learn new things,” Alvelo added.
From playing ball to driving humvees and seven-ton trucks in the war on terrorism, Nunez continues to keep his head in the game, and says he is looking forward to what the future may have in store.