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Things learned, observed on Day 4 of 23rd Pacificwide Open Interservice Softball Tournament

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer begins the decompression process from the busy Far East tournament week:

It’s the end of an era where the 23rd Pacificwide Open Interservice Softball Tournament was concerned. The tournament’s founding father and original organizer, Bennie L. Jackson, Yongsan Garrison’s longtime sports director, announced during the tournament that he’ll be leaving his post.

Not only was Bennie the driving force that turned the tournament into the premier softball event in the Pacific, he helped keep post-level sports in Korea alive, when so many tried to do away with them, citing the need to ensure our troops are fit to fight, siphoning off money from varsity sports and putting them toward fitness, weights and cardio.

Those are vitally important in the scheme of defense. Our troops need to be fit to fight on a moment’s notice; I get that, and so do those who play varsity sports as well.

Jackson many times over the years has told me in taking over the tournament in 1991, he saw the need for something for the “elite athlete.” The one needing that Pacific stage to demonstrate he’s ready to perform at the Armed Forces or perhaps the national level.

The Pacificwide (or Pac-wide as many call it) is one such platform, and he did his best to fight to keep it alive, even after it got put on life support in winter 2011.

As rain fell following Monday’s championship games, and as it was announced that there would be a 2014 tournament pending command approval, many of Jackson’s friends, longtime Korea softball guys like Robert Hochmuth of Camp Casey and Robert “Chief” Waddle of Osan Air Base, presented Jackson a signed photograph of him seated in his ubiquitous command golf cart.

The 71-year-old Jackson, a retired Army sergeant first class, has been in Korea since 1976 and in his current post since 1990.

The Pac-wide had its origins in 1967 as a small fastpitch tournament at Naval Communications Station Philippines, known to the folks who played in it as the San Miguel Tournament. Wrongfully, it was associated with the beer of the same name. That tournament morphed into the region’s major slowpitch tournament which attracted as many as 38 teams one year before coup attempts against the Philippines government and later Mount Pinatubo sounded San Miguel’s death knell.

Jackson rescued the tournament from the scrap heap in 1991, bringing it to Yongsan Garrison’s Lombardo Field FourPlex, where it has been played every year except 2002, when Camp Casey hosted it when Lombardo was being renovated.

Bennie, you will be missed. And I’m sure I don’t speak just for me.
***
Over the last few years, I’d assumed that the dearth of home runs in the tournament was due to a decline in talent on the men’s side. The days of Gurney Holley, Bam-Bam Burrell, Albert Kemp, Dexter Avery, Jason Parker, Dexter High and others who could put softballs into orbit seemed to have gone the way of the Flying Wedge.

But to put it simply, without the technical gobbledy gook, a change in the softballs used at this tournament seems to have caused a spike in home runs. The balls were JUMPING out of the fields. Guys who don’t normally hit home runs suddenly found themselves channeling their inner Mickey Mantle. Scores were way up this year, particularly in the late playoff rounds.

Sure, the same teams that met for the last two Pac-wide finals, met again for the third straight year, two teams loaded with stateside All-Service veteran blood, Scrapalators and American Legion. And in Monday’s rain-drenched best-of-three final, it appeared as if Scraps held title deed on the title as it whipped Legion 21-11 in five innings in the first game and led 18-3 in the third inning of the second. “Looks as if Legion is going to go quietly into the night, without a fight,” I mumbled to myself.

Legion’s ears must have been burning. Turns out they were far from done.

Over the next two-plus innings, Legion scored 24 unanswered runs, many on home runs, to pull ahead 27-18 and was one base hit short of sending the final to a third game in the fifth inning.

More fireworks lay ahead, as Scraps answered with 26 runs in the sixth inning alone. Legion still wouldn’t quit; they scored 14 more runs, and had the bases loaded with two outs when Travis Wollison, the hero of last September’s All-Armed Forces tournament, grounded out to end it.

The 44-41 game came one run short of matching the record for most runs in one game the two teams set in last year’s final, when Scraps beat Legion 50-36. That broke the 18-year-old record of 77 set by defunct Pacific Force in a 61-16 win over Yokosuka in the old Yokosuka Open; Pac Force’s run total is still the single-team record for one game.
***
Sixty-one runs. That’s a good TOURNAMENT for some teams.
***
Should the tournament have continued in the rain? That’s a two-edged sword. The two teams in the men’s final were not to leave until Wednesday, and could conceivably have played Tuesday evening, when the weather was a little better. But the tournament traditionally ends on a Monday, most of the umpires would have had to return to work the next day, just a whole bunch of things getting in the way.

On the other side of that coin is player safety. In that kind of weather, the bases and home plate become as slick as a skating rink. Four players suffered injuries as a result of being struck by batted balls in the tournament; the last thing you want is for a torn hamstring, pulled groin or fractured lower leg to occur thanks to a misstep on a base or home plate.

If someday the money can be found to turf the four fields on the Lombardo FourPlex, then rain will no longer be an issue; the 2011 Far East Divisions I and II Tournaments were completed in day-long downpours at Daegu’s turfed fields on Camps Carroll and Walker.
***
The most impressive aspect of the women’s title being won for the third straight year by Kyongnam, the Korean national fastpitch team, is Kyongnam didn’t even bring its front-line team. Kyongnam’s B side cut like a buzz saw through every team it played, except for Xtreme of Okinawa, the only team that managed to stay with Kyongnam. The A side was playing a fastpitch tournament down peninsula. Such has been the tournament’s lot since it began inviting Korean teams in 2001, with Daewoo/Red Fox, Sang Ji University and Kyongnam taking turns playing gnip-gnop with the tournament title (except the years Camp Casey’s women and Team USA’s women took the title).
***
Lynell McLeod of Scrapalators once more gets the tournament's long-distance traveler award, coming all the way from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., to play in the four-day event.

357 days.

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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.)

 

Oct. 17: The Nile C. Kinnick football team can ensure its fans have good seats for the Far East Division I final with a win over Kadena on Saturday.

Oct. 3: Dave Ornauer talks about the weekend's key football matchups, including Matthew C. Perry at American School In Japan.

Sept. 12: Dave Ornauer highlights Nile C. Kinnick's win over Zama, 30-0, during high school football last week, discusses other games throughout the Pacific.