Things learned, observed in Pacificwide Open Softball Tournament version 22.0, Day 4.0.
Published: May 30, 2012
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer still finds himself decompressing from Far East high school tournament week and the Pac-wide as he begins the high school graduation rounds:
The number of teams keep dwindling year by year in the Pacificwide Open Softball Tournament. Total number of teams this year fell to 36, 16 men’s post/open-level, 10 men’s company-level and 10 women’s – the fewest since the tournament’s inception, 1991.
Granted, the price of traveling to such tournaments gets higher every year, thanks to rising airline ticket prices, fuel excise taxes, the fact that teams now have to make their way to and from Inchon and Kimpo Airports (no more free bus rides) and the cost of staying at the Dragon Hill Lodge for at least six days.
But especially on the men’s side, could it be that teams are tiring of what’s become an annual exercise: Looking up at the International Guzzlers, American Legion and now two-time champion Scrapalators at the top of the playoff heap?
Not since 2002, when Osan Air Base double-dipped host Camp Casey in the final the one year the tournament wasn’t played at Yongsan Garrison, has a post-level team managed to elbow their way around the so-called “stacked” open ballclubs.
It is what it is, the saying goes. Open teams that enjoy sponsorships enjoy a distinct advantage over post teams, which don’t enjoy the flow of dollars from companies such as Drash, Worth and others who kick in plenty of scratch for everything from uniforms to transportation.
So what if Legion, Guzzlers, Scraps and others import a veritable who’s who of All-Armed Forces and All-Service veterans? In one case, Brian Wegman, a majors-level player, offered his services to Legion. Rather than condemn them, I commend the teams for it. They’re perfectly within the letter of the tournament rules and bylaws.
Problem is, those rules and bylaws handcuff post-level teams, who pretty much stay with whatever talent is available on their bases. The closest any of them came to sniffing the best-of-three final? Osan and Casey each exited in the knockout stage, one game before each pool championship game.
By my count this year, among the men’s top tier, there were six open teams, Club Red and Pizza Inn of Okinawa and Sons of Shanghai (yes, China was represented here) in addition to the aforementioned.
Just thinking out loud, but … what’s wrong with creating a men’s post-level division?
The tournament a year ago evened the playing field for company-level teams that stood even less of a chance of getting a whiff of success by creating an intramural division.
Blog-post interruption: That’s save for a handful of company-level surprises, most notably the Guzzlers when they were a shot-and-beer rag-tag outfit that just so happened to beat three post-level teams in consecutive years in games scheduled at 3 a.m. at old Field No. 7.
But I digress. Assuming they separate the teams into two divisions, the men’s open teams can go nuts stacking and importing to their hearts’ content. And the men’s post-level teams can do what they do during what passes for their post-level seasons, go with the players they have and keep them within the integrity and the bounds and limits of their own installation or command.
Food for thought. How about your thoughts?
Kevin Meade, who formerly coached Osan’s and Kadena Air Base’s men’s teams, chimed in almost immediately on Facebook: “My guess is representation will increase within the post-level category. It could be the closest thing to a command-wide tournament folks will experience. Would love to see a Kadena Falcon vs. Osan Defender championship game.”
Sad to say, Kadena no longer has a base team and the Osan base teams are called the Mustangs now. But you get the idea.
One might make a similar argument for separating the Korean teams out of the women’s division, stage an American women’s pool play and playoff and a separate Korean tournament, with the winners to meet in a best-of-three series.
I buy into that only to a point – American teams have proven they can compete with the fundamentally sound Korean squads, provided they do one thing: Hit the ball. In finals in which the American teams haven’t hit, they’ve lost. When they have hit, they won; poster-child examples came in 2009 and 2010, when the Lady Guzzlers and Yard Busters in back-to-back years did bring the lumber.
Good note the tournament struck this year, adding 12-player all-tournament teams. Something that should have happened from the git-go lo’ those 21 years ago.
One Guzzlers’ all-tournament selection, Nicholas “Ike” Eicher, is one of the event’s more fortunate sons, for four years ago, it appeared as if he might not live, much less play in another tournament.
Eicher, then 26, an Army reservist who had just returned from deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, was working above a warehouse in Los Angeles when he was electrocuted and fell through the roof to the ground on his head.
The right side of his skull was shattered, his brain was bleeding in several places and it had swelled so large that doctors gave him a 5-percent chance to live, and if he did, he would most likely be a vegetable. “They didn’t think I was going to make it,” Eicher said Sunday, Day 3 of the tournament.
Long story short, despite the odds, Eicher rehabilitated all the way back to where he began playing softball again a year ago. A Guzzlers member in 2002 and ’03 when he was assigned to Korea, Eicher said he jumped at the chance to come back and play for them again this year.
“It’s literally like a dream to be back here,” said Eicher, who now lives near Ann Arbor, Mich. “I almost had to pinch myself.”
Speaking of those down-at-the-heels, long-suffering company-level teams, the Geckos Glaciers, the Canadian hockey team with a softball problem that runs a sports-beverage establishment in I’taewon, got a nine-year monkey off their backs by winning not just one, but two playoff games.