Joining the Marines right out of high school was one of the best decisions I've made to date. I'm a better pitcher for having challenged myself.
When I joined, I was sent to boot camp at Camp Pendleton, which is south of Anaheim and close to San Diego. I wanted the extra discipline. I wanted the experience of going through their boot camp and testing myself. I got all of that and more.
I ended up being in the Marine Corps Reserve for the next four years and performed one weekend a month and two full weeks in the summer. That experience has been instrumental in my career, in my life and in getting things accomplished.
I figure that if I was able to get through something as strenuous and mentally challenging as Marine Corps boot camp, I can do just about anything else.
Getting ready for baseball is a walk in the park compared to boot camp. The hiking, running, push-ups, pull-ups and other physical stress that the drill instructors put you through, as well as the verbal abuse, can't really be compared with baseball training. It's just different. You're preparing for two totally different things. In boot camp, you're preparing for war. In baseball, you're getting in shape.
As exciting and fulfilling as it was to put on a Major League Baseball uniform, walking along that parade deck in my Marine uniform gave me a greater sense of accomplishment because I felt like I went though something a lot tougher. That made it a little bit more special. There was that sense of pride, of history and of pride in my country.
A week before you graduate Marine boot camp, they bring you to either a Chargers football game or a Padres game. They brought me to a Padres game. When I went back to San Diego as a player some years later and saw those Marines in the stands, I made it a point to talk to them after the game.
I told them, "I play Major League Baseball and there are not too many people who can say that. But when I walked across that parade deck and graduated a United States Marine, like you will in a week from now, I felt more pride then I did when I made it to the bigs. You should feel honored that you're going to be able to call yourselves United States Marines and proud that you're serving your country."
It felt good to be able to go up there and let them know how much I appreciate them serving our country, especially during a time of conflict. Any time I come across someone who has served or is serving our country, I always stop to shake his or her hand. It's their sacrifices that allow people like me to play baseball for a living and sleep peacefully at night.
There are some similarities between the Marine Corps and being a Major League Baseball player. They're very similar in that you're part of a team and the chemistry that goes along with it. The camaraderie, the teamwork and the friendships that you develop are similar. You talk, joke around and even pull pranks on your buddies in the Marines and in baseball.
I have an immense amount of respect for those who have served our country. I cherish the time I spent in the Marine Corps and I put that experience to good use in my life every day.
Justin Speier served as a Marine reserve from 1991-95. The son of former big league shortstop Chris Speier, Justin is in his second season pitching out of the bullpen for the Angels.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.