Things learned, observed in Firecracker Shootout softball tournament through Day 3.0
Published: June 30, 2012
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer doffs his Brooklyn Dodgers cap to the end of rainy season and the trappings of July 4th week:
Anybody remember that highlight of former major league pitching icon Randy Johnson smacking a poor, unsuspecting bird with one of his fireballing deliveries?
A Red’s Revenge women’s player in the Firecracker Shootout – who along with her two sons met Johnson himself during a USO tour a few months ago – endured a similar moment while at bat in a game played Saturday morning against Misawa Air Base.
Anna Kamm stood at bat with a two-strike count and awaited the Misawa delivery … when a rather large bird crossed in front of Kamm just as the ball reached her. She shrieked and spun to the left, fouling off the softball for an automatic strike-three count.
“I didn’t really know if it was the ball or the bird I was swinging at,” said Kamm, 32, a dependent spouse living at Plaza Housing Area on Camp Foster. She hails from Taylor, Mich., and calls the Detroit Tigers her favorite team. “It was a pretty big bird. I was telling my teammates I’m scarred for life after that.”
Fortunately, the bird did not suffer the same fate as the one who encountered Johnson’s pitch in that memorable video.
She had seen the video several times, and said she’d thought of Johnson, the flame-throwing left-hander and five-time Cy Young Award winner who retired three seasons ago with 303 victories, 4,875 strikeouts – second-most in major-league history – two no-hitters and a World Series ring with Arizona in 2001, when he shared Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year honors with teammate Curt Schilling.
Johnson spent time with players belonging to the Habu baseball U-13 program on Okinawa, mostly Japanese but also Kamm’s two sons, Kyle, 12, and Ethan, 10.
“That’s what it (the bird) reminded me of,” Kamm said of Johnson.
In addition to crowning team champions in interarea play, some players use the Firecracker, as well as the Pacificwide open tournament in May at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, to ramp up their game in hopes of gaining a berth on their respective All-Service teams.
Jack Healy, 26, a petty officer second class assigned to Sasebo Naval Base security and an outfielder-third baseman with Sasebo’s Outlaws team, is one of those hopefuls. The All-Navy team has given him the OK to come to tryout camp Aug. 29-Sept. 14 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and bid for a spot on the All-Navy team. The All-Armed Forces tournament is Sept. 15-20 at Fort Sill, Okla.
Healy also played for Misawa Air Base in the Pacificwide, where Sasebo did not play this year. “It was great,” Healy said of the experience of playing against high-caliber teams and players. “You learn a lot, especially with those veterans around.”
One of Sasebo’s coaches described Healy as having the “arm from hell, good arm, good speed, solid stick.”
Are the umpires in this year’s Firecracker that much shorter on experience or is the whining that goes with the alleged “poor calls” that much more pronounced this year?
Tournament organizers decided to go with the Okinawa Athletic Officials Association, instead of the Far East Officials Association which for years had provided umpires for the Firecracker. FEOA does the lion’s share of diamond tournaments, while OAOA is more associated with basketball, football and other sports on island.
To be fair, a goodly handful of the umpires working the Firecracker are new. It could be argued that working a tournament with more intense competition such as this helps new umpires learn faster and become more accustomed to a faster tempo and speed of the game.
It could also be argued that a so-called Pacificwide Grand Slam tournament is no place for the novice. It could also be argued that Marine Corps Community Services went with the best available officiating crew for the price in an economy in which varsity sports – throughout the military, not just the Pacific – are pretty much on life support. It could also be argued that we ought to be glad we have a Firecracker in any form as a result.
The OAOA is doing the best it can with what it can. Some calls have been questionable; then again, that’s the case in most tournaments I’ve seen. That said, let the novice umps learn in a different environment, such as company-level ball at Kadena, before they’re thrown into the frying pan of a Pacificwide tournament. There’s too much at stake.