Second baseman Matthew Craig set many records at Limestone College, with a promising return next season. Instead, Craig will sit this season out and trade his baseball uniform for army fatigues.
â€œIt was something I always wanted to do since I was little,â€ Craig said of signing up for the Army Reserves in 2001. â€œI always thought that you should serve for at least a year. Its a good idea to teach you how to be on your own for awhile.â€
Craig left for New Jersey Tuesday to train eight weeks at Fort Dix before his tour in Iraq.
â€œI have no idea what is going to happen in the next eight weeks before we go overseas,â€ Craig said. â€œWeâ€™ll go up north and go through different kinds of training. They havenâ€™t really told us what weâ€™re going to be doing.â€
Mixed feelings accompany Craig about his leave for duty, but he feels the job must be finished.
â€œIâ€™d rather be at home with the AC then out training,â€ he said. â€œI really canâ€™t describe it, 50 percent of me says letâ€™s go right now and the other says letâ€™s not go at all.â€
As far as the war goes, Craig believes the U.S. involvement is justified.
â€œI think the war in general wasnâ€™t a bad idea,â€ Craig said. â€œIt had to be done. It was right to get Saddam out of power, from abusing his people.
â€œSince we got him, we canâ€™t leave,â€ he said. â€œWe have to finish what we started and rebuild everything and put the working government and military in place.â€
Craig will spend one year in Iraq, where he is a member of the 505th Engineering Battalion.
â€œWeâ€™re engineers, so weâ€™ll be rebuilding things,â€ he said. â€œWe will have missions. We donâ€™t know what theyâ€™ll be, but it will pertain to engineering.â€
Baseball played an important role in Craigâ€™s life, long before he began at Limestone or the Army Reserves.
â€œHis whole life has been wrapped around baseball,â€ said Larry Craig, Matthewâ€™s father. â€œHeâ€™s played baseball ever since he began playing T-ball for West Lincoln Optimist.â€
Craig went on to play for West Lincoln Middle and High School and then for Cherryville Legion.
â€œWhen he played for Cherryville Legion, they won district state and came in second place in the world series. Heâ€™s had an exciting baseball career, getting to advance that far,â€ said Larry.
While at Limestone, Craig led the team in batting averages and hitting streaks.
â€œI started 30 games as a sophomore,â€ Craig said. â€œI played in five or six games as a freshman. I was second in batting average sophomore year.â€
Last season, Craig was awarded the Second-team-All Carolina-Virginia Athletics Conference honors for his outstanding play.
â€œWe won a conference this year for the first time in Limestone history,â€ Craig said of his team winning the CVAC.
Craig recorded a team-high 21 multiple-hit games last year, with a team best 17-game hitting streak, hitting .443 with two home runs and 19 RBI.
â€œMatt basically, last year, was the heart and soul of our ball club,â€ said Limestone Coach Chico Lombardi.
â€œHeâ€™s such a competitor and has a burning desire to win. He was a real inspiration to all of our players and coaches,â€ Lombardi said.
â€œHe worked so hard to achieve the success he had, the last two years he led us in hitting.â€
The Saints will miss Craig while he is in Iraq, but Lombardi says the door is open for his return.
â€œFor him to lose his last year is really a disappointment, but we understand the reasons,â€ he said. â€œMatt is totally committed. We havenâ€™t replaced him, we have a couple players battling for that position, but we wont replace him.â€
Although Craig will spend his would-be senior year in Iraq, he already has plans for his return and future endeavors.
â€œI am going to go back to college and finish my degree in computer science and finish my last year in baseball,â€ he said. â€œI thought about going to the Major League Umpiring School and work my way into the big leagues umpiring.â€
While Craig is braving the heat of Iraq, his family, friends and teammates will keep him in their thoughts.
â€œWeâ€™re really proud of him, heâ€™s been a good kid,â€ Larry Craig said. â€œI just hope all goes well for him overseas and we ask folks to remember him in their prayers.â€