High schoolers take their cuts vs. adults in Firecracker softball

Asia Abdul, a Kadena High School soon-to-be junior, plays catcher for the Far East Division I Tournament champion Panthers and also plays for Revenge, an Okinawa women's open team in the Firecracker Shootout softball tournament.<br>Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
Asia Abdul, a Kadena High School soon-to-be junior, plays catcher for the Far East Division I Tournament champion Panthers and also plays for Revenge, an Okinawa women's open team in the Firecracker Shootout softball tournament.

It’s a case of unlikely alliances and opponents: A Kubasaki High School catcher playing alongside two Kadena players playing against a Panthers teammate.

That’s the narrative in this weekend’s Firecracker Shootout softball tournament for Kubasaki’s Sydney Kieweg, catching for Revenge, an Okinawa women’s open team, and having Kadena outfielders Asia Abdul and Bailey Prince as teammates. Macalah Danielsen, a Panthers shortstop, plays for the Okinawa Dragons, another open team and the defending tournament champion.

“It’s kind of hard,” said Prince, a soon-to-be junior, of playing against Danielsen, who along with Abdul and Kieweg are teammates on the Lady Ambassadors fastpitch club program. “We’re all really close, we’re on the same club team and stuff. But it’s fun. It’s competitive.”

Kieweg, who’ll be a junior, could be forgiven if she felt reticent about suiting up with players from Kadena, which won the Far East Division I Tournament title six weeks ago. But she says she’s fine with it. “I would rather play with them than against them,” she said.

If anything, the four lend each other encouragement on the field during games, such as their mid-day Friday game which the Dragons won 11-6 at Foster Field 4. “We still tell each other what to do, good hit, things like that,” said Abdul, a soon-to-be junior.

Is there any significant change when switching from fastpitch, which they do far more of, and slowpitch, which they might play once or twice a year?

“The attitude is different,” said Danielsen, who will be a sophomore and at 15 is the youngest player in the tournament. She received a special coin for that during the tournament’s opening ceremony on Thursday. “It’s more fun, less serious, but it’s still nerve wracking. I feel like I have to prove myself to people.”

High school-aged players are allowed to play in the Firecracker with their parents’ permission, according to the tournament by-laws.
For the second straight year, tents have been pitched by teams both local and off-island throughout the Gunners Fitness & Sports Complex, and some are quite well appointed.

Somehow, teams have managed to string electric lines to power sources near the field. One team uses a gasoline-powered generator. All manner of appliances populate tents ranging from the tiniest of pup tents to a field mobility tent, from the simplest of fans to a couple of air conditioning units in Club Red’s mobility tent. At least 15 grills can be found, mostly propane units, and the smell of cooking bratwursts, hot dogs and hamburgers can be enjoyed throughout the complex.

For the off-island teams camping out, it saves on hotel or billeting dinero. For the local teams, it’s just as convenient to rough it as it is for the visitors. “It keeps everybody close to the fields and it limits how much you have to drive,” Club Red’s Ed Prince said.
The three teams from Japan and one from Korea might well be keeping one eye on the weather forecast and the other on the field as Tropical Storm Neoguri makes its way northwest from Guam to Okinawa. It likely won’t affect the tournament, but it could impact their ability to fly back home; they’re all slated to fly on Tuesday, when Neoguri reaches its closest point to the island.

Asked what they would do if they were grounded by the storm, Ben Whitehead of Osan Air Base in Korea shrugged and said: “Just enjoy another day on the island.”

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Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)


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