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Things learned, observed on Day 3 of 23rd Pacificwide Open Softball Tournament

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as I try to express to folks that this does NOT end for Ornauer just because school sports have ended for the 2012-13 school year:

There was a time when pitchers wearing catcher’s masks was considered unusual and the exception. Now, not only are they almost a universal rule at this weekend’s 23rd Pacificwide Open Interservice Softball Tournament -- but we’re seeing third basemen wearing them, too.

As bats get ever lighter and balls keep jumping off them, the danger to infielders, especially pitchers and the hot-corner men, ever increases, despite safety measures taken by sanctioning bodies and tournament organizers to lessen the dangers. But more and more players at more and more positions are taking matters into their own hands to prevent serious injury.

“Safety,” said pitcher Matthew Plank of Hawaii’s SNAFU open team. “With the way balls and bats are, I have the shortest reaction time on the field. I’ve seen two people get seriously hurt. One of them was my friend."

“Plus, it makes him look better,” kidded teammate Sam Orr.

Through Sunday’s early games, three players already had been struck in the face by batted or thrown balls. One of them had his lip split wide open; a photograph circulated through the tournament looked as if he’d been shot.

Gordy Quillen of American Legion was one of the third basemen donning a mask. “Hard balls flying through here, nothing but damage,” he said.

***

Although the number of men’s open teams continues to drop – 16 this year – the level of play seems to have increased among those teams that have finished behind the teams that have played in the last two finals, Scrapalators and American Legion. Each team fields many present and former All-Service players, many of whom play for those teams year-round in tournaments throughout the region, and in the Scrapalators’ case, the Warfighter circuit, which includes the Reforger Classic, played over the July 4th weekend in Germany.

Joint Task Force, comprised mainly of players from Hawaii, surprised the Scraps in pool play, although Scraps did end up with the No. 1 seed into the double-elimination playoffs out of Pool A. Legion finished 7-0 in Pool B, two games ahead of 5-2 Osan Air Base.

While Legion features exclusively stateside players this year, the Legion that plays on Okinawa combined forces with Club Red, its chief rival, to form Armed Forces to challenge the tournament’s top dogs. Armed Forces forced Scraps to dig deep and rally for a 35-28 playoff victory.

***

Bad weather is in the forecast for Monday, and the tournament could well finish in the rain for the first time since Kunsan Air Base won its only Pacific Grand Slam Tournament title in 1982, when the Wolf Pack beat Camp Casey in the men’s final. No tournament final has ever been canceled due to weather in what’s commonly called the Pac-wide.

***

There was too a time when catchers would keep up an endless stream of verbage behind the plate, designed to distract the batters and make the pitcher’s job easier. It used to be called gamesmanship; these days, such things are discouraged in the name of good sportsmanship.

Somehow, Edward Johnson hasn’t gotten the message. The 51-year-old GS-12 from Daytona Beach, Fla., who grew up with many-times All-Armed Forces player Elmer Mason of the Scraps, does his best to channel old-school catchers, playing to the umpires with a “Talk to me, blue! Sing me that song!” after every pitch.

“I’ve been playing the game all my life,” said Johnson, who has been coming to the Pacificwide for the last 12 years. His teammates call him “Radio” because of that mouth that never closes -- on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and any other day he’s playing. “I can’t stop it. If I do, the umpires won’t have fun.”

Somehow, I think the blues think otherwise. *smile*

***

One thing that Jeff Jackson, one of Scrapalators’ sponsors who’s spearheaded the drive to keep the Pacificwide going, told me stood resonated: about conversations he has with folks in the States about which tournaments are the marquee ones in the softball circuit. Among the folks he talks to in the States, the Pacificwide is discussed far more than even the USSSA Military Worlds tournaments.

Others agree that the tournament remains the primary platform for All-Service veterans and those seeking a chance for first-time entry into All-Service tryout camps.

In places like this, we watch, recruit and call the coach and let them know” whom might help the team, said five-time All-Army and All-Armed Forces infielder Kenneth Turlington, who’s assigned to Korea’s Camp Humphreys but is playing for Joint Task Force.

Rare is the fellow who can make it to that many consecutive Army camps, much less be selected for higher-level play. Turlington had to turn down a couple of invitations to play for the All-Armed Forces team because of duty.

“I’ve been lucky with each of my commands,” Turlington said. “We are not seeing as many young kids come into camp any more.”

Hopefuls include Camp Casey utility player Jedon Matthews, corner infielder Taylor Schmidt and pitcher Jarvis Manning, who’s already been to All-Army basketball camp and hopes for a shot at softball camp this summer. So, too, do outfielder Shauna Berry and corner infielder Ashley Thompson of Yokota, Japan.

***

Some players in the tournament are proving you can come home again.

Take Ashley Gooch, for example. The 2005 Taegu American School graduate is back in country, after gaining her masters degree in educational leadership. She is substitute teaching at Daegu American Elementary School and Daegu High School, in a bid to enter the DODDS system, as is her mother, Michelle Chandler, who’s the athletics director at Sigonella High School in Sicily.

“It’s nice to be home, especially seeing the kids now” playing volleyball and basketball at Daegu High, said Gooch, who plays second and first base for the Daegu/Area IV post-level team. “It seems so much better than it used to be.”

Others who are back and playing in the land where they cut their teeth on softball include Kris Spann, a 2008 Seoul American graduate who’s now on Camp Humphreys’ post-level team and is hoping for a shot at All-Army camp; and fellow 2008 Falcon graduate Jennifer Simmons, who now plays for Yongsan Garrison’s post-level team. Julia Marrin, who graduated from Yokota High in Japan in 2011, now plays for the Yokota Warriors base team.

***

Without question, the oldest cap in the tournament has to be the one worn by third baseman Tony “Ice” Iafelice of 5-time champion International Guzzlers Softball Club of Korea. Since he acquired it while playing in the Manila Invitational in 2001, Ice has been wearing it, but says it may be time for a change. “I’m going to break in another for the next 15 years,” he said.

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Ornauer on AFN

 

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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