There’s a little bit of everything at Tent City, built somewhat out of necessity near the ballfields of Camp Foster’s Gunners Fitness & Sports Complex for the Firecracker Shootout Softball Tournament.
Curfew restrictions require most servicemembers to be back on base by 10 p.m., so a great many teams and players who have games scheduled past curfew have taken to roughing it, in tents and other forms of portable shelter, the likes which haven’t been seen at Pacificwide softball tournaments in decades.
All types of shelters, big and small, pup tents and tents that can hold whole families. And some players have brought their families and turned their weekend into an outdoor affair. Sports beverages of all types, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, flow copiously and the smell of burgers, ribs, hot dogs and kielbasa waft throughout the complex. Propane lanterns illuminate the evenings and sound systems, blaring mostly 70s and 80s music, can be heard at almost all hours. At any time, foursomes head to the various slanted boards scattered around the place to play the beanbag game called Cornhole.
In all, about 25 tents and other forms of shelter are holding players from the Old Timers, Mayhem, GOATS, Sons of Pitches and defending champion Club Red, all of Okinawa. Other tents are scattered around the complex, but not such a vast number in one location.
“It’s the safe way to do it,” said Old Timers coach Gilberto Rivera, 45, a master gunnery sergeant who proudly hails from Tucson, Ariz., and sports a University of Arizona “A” cap to prove it. He’s assigned to III Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Courtney.
His Old Timers tents were sandwiched smack in the middle of two crews burning beef, Club Red along the fence line of Field 3, and the Far East Officials Association umpiring crew closer to Field 1.
While the Old Timers are, indeed, in the upper age bracket of staff NCOs and higher ranks, Sons of Pitches sat at the other end of the age scale – mostly privates and lance corporals age 30 and under. Yet their sound system belied their ages; one might hear “More Than a Feeling” from Boston’s 1976 debut album, which was the first ever to debut at No. 1 on Billboard, to Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” from the 1980 album of the same title.
“We play it old school,” said Sons of Pitches first baseman Adam Tornatore, son of a New York state trooper who lived all over the Empire State while growing up, but claims Syracuse as his home city on the team’s roster. But he’s also quick to brag on his Canastota roots, home of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Carmen Basilio, who helped found the Hall and boxed in the Marine Corps, is Tornatore’s great uncle.
Everywhere, one common denominator could be found: Camaraderie.
“We’re in this for the long haul, we would like to win,” Rivera said, but with a wave of his arm around the players and family members seated under one tent, “It’s more about camaraderie. Bring the family, make it a camping trip. It’s the best of both worlds. You get to play softball and you get to be together as a family.”
Tent cities are far from new to Pacificwide open softball tournaments, but are no longer the staple they once were at tournaments such as the Typhoon Classic at Okinawa’s Torii Station, where olive green mobility tents were put up for teams past the outfield fence, and the old San Miguel Invitational in the Philippines, where similar accommodations were put up after the tournament outgrew on-base guest quarters starting in 1984.
The San Miguel – named not for the beer, but for the Naval Communications Station on the west coast of Luzon of the same name – was perhaps the better appointed of the two.
Its tent city was nicknamed the Refugee Camp, owing to NavComSta San Miguel’s status as a safe haven for refugees who poured out of Vietnam at the end of that conflict on May 1, 1975.
Nearly a decade later, NavComSta’s staff civil began putting up mobility tents in advance of the arrival of the teams – and there were many, a record 38 in 1986, coming from everywhere from Hawaii to Diego Garcia and all points inbetween. They even strung electric lines, power and extension cords, and teams took full advantage. Murphy’s, a bar league team of GIs from Angeles City, adjacent to Clark Air Base, and its proprietor Bob Pollard would even bring a giant wide-screen TV, a refrigerator, a bar and five stools and mixed beverages just as they would in Angeles.
Again, it was a great way to build team camaraderie and chemistry. And unlike the steamy weather of Okinawa in July, the San Miguel was held annually in January, dry season in the Philippines, when one might need a blanket to ward off evening chill, particularly in 1987, when the low at night would reach the high 50s.
But it’s nice to see a tent city spring up at one of these tournaments again. I forgot just how cool those really were.