Day 2.0 of Firecracker Shootout softball tournament
Published: July 4, 2010
They didn't talk about it much, but like the white elephant in the room, wind, southwesterly breezes and gusts of up to 25 mph, made its presence felt throughout this weekend's 15th Firecracker Shootout Interservice Softball Tournament. And perhaps thrown out of kilter most by the wind were pitchers on Field 4, which staged all of the women's games.
Once the ball leaves a pitcher's hand in the slowpitch game, the elements take over. With the wind blowing mostly in the pitcher's face, deliveries constantly fell short of the plate and pitchers were compensating by throwing a little harder. Unfortunately, that involved a penalty also; if the wind would die down for an instant, the pitch would land too deep.
Prime examples: Defending champion Yard Busters won their first game 20-8 on Friday over Misawa Air Base, Japan, despite walking 16 batters. The next night, they held a seemingly commanding 17-5 lead over Yokota Air Base, Japan, after four innings, but walked 12 batters over the next three innings and eventually lost 20-19.
"Frustrating," one player said.
Well, such are the weather patterns on Okinawa. Wind is about as common as sugar cane on this island.
Fault lay not with Yard Busters pitchers; they did what they could under the circumstances. And Yokota's batters simply followed one specific instruction: Don't swing until you have two strikes on you, be patient and wait out walks, for they're just as good as hits.
Anthony Hawkins remembers Okinawa's breezes. As a 19-year-old on his first assignment to Okinawa 10 years ago, he and his Marine Corps Base Camp S.D. Butler team braved strong gusts from an oncoming tropical storm to rally past Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in the 2000 Far East Regional Tournament at Camp Foster's Field 1.
Hawkins has returned for a second tour to Okinawa, fresh off a recruiting sting at Warner Robins, Ga. He was renowned 10 years ago as a slap-hitting left-handed leadoff batter who constantly swatted pitches to left field and turned seeming singles into doubles, but returns to Okinawa with a more complete hitting game, he says.
"I hit everywhere now," said Hawkins, 29, a staff sergeant assigned to Camp Kinser's Combat Logistics Regiment 35. He's admittedly put on "about 25 pounds, but I'm still as fast as I was. But I'm getting older."
Hawkins was part of a Pacific Force team that won the 2001 Firecracker, playing alongside highly decorated All-Service veterans such as Cherylton McRae. Pacific Force won a record 39 Pacific Grand Slam tournament titles in 15 years before disbanding in 2004.
Hawkins played for Sasebo Naval Base in this weekend's Firecracker, and will suit up for 3rd Marine Logistics Group in next month's Far East Regional on Camp Hansen.