CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Over the past few years, many a veteran of All-Marine softball has transferred from Okinawa, leaving a gaggle of next-generation players to be evaluated and selected to represent the service in the All-Armed Forces tournament.

Having talent is one thing, says a veteran of the All-Marine softball tryout camp. But to succeed at that level, players also must demonstrate talent and maturity consistently.

“We have a lot of young, raw talent here on Okinawa,” said Todd Harding, pitcher for Okinawa’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, who was selected for the 2002 All-Marine tryout camp at Twentynine Palms, Calif. “But it takes a few years of playing at this level before those young players are ready to go to camp. It’s how they deal when the pressure is on.”

Until 2003, whether Okinawa had enough talent never was in question. Teams taking part in the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Tournament, which serves as an All-Marine camp qualifier, generally had from eight to 10 players who’d either been selected to the All-Marine team or had attended camp, Harding said.

Now, especially with today’s deployments, those numbers have dwindled to three or four. And “name” players such as 12-time All-Marine Cherylton McRae (transfer), four-time All-Marine Gary Chaney (retired) and others are caught up in duty and other commitments or have left the island.

“Before the war, we had guys who had played eight to 10 years at the highest level,” Harding said. “We (Wing) probably have the most experienced team in the tournament but even so, we only have three guys who have been to camp.”

Compounding the Marines’ challenge as they try to recapture the All-Armed Forces title last earned six years ago: Of the four services, the Marines have the smallest pool from which to draw.

“We have talent here,” Harding said of players such as Keith Gilchrist and former All-Marine Tyrone Gray on Wing, Robert Putney of 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force, Eduardo Santiesteban, Chaz Amman of Marine Corps Base Camp Butler and Dan Fischbach and Mike Smit of 3rd Force Service Support Group.

“But you have to perform consistently to be successful at that level,” Harding said. “That takes time.”

Wing hoping to avoid ‘double-elimination jinx’Six times in the past eight years, the winners-bracket representative in the tournament’s double-elimination championship round has been defeated twice and lost the title to the loser’s-bracket team.

Harding and Wing indicated they were hoping they wouldn’t become the jinx’s next victim during Wednesday’s championship. Wing reached the championship round by edging Base 14-13.

“Not taking anything for granted, not at all,” Harding said. “Especially when teams are this even, with nobody clearly above and below each other, even seeding doesn’t matter. It’s who comes ready to play.”

Since 1998, only Base (2002) and 3rd Force (2003) captured the tournament title by winning a one-game final.

Day 2 marked by weather worries, controversyWing came by its victory over 3rd Force only with controversy. Due to an umpiring oversight, the game was called after six innings, after just more than an hour of play. While round-robin games were governed by a one-hour time limit, playoff games were extended to 75 minutes according to tournament bylaws.

Wing was batting with one out, the bases loaded and the score tied 13-13 when Gray hit an RBI single and play was halted. The misapplication of the time limit was not caught until long after the game was over and another playoff game had begun.

Tournament bylaws also state that such incidents must be pointed out immediately and settled on the spot.

Coaches of both teams, tournament officials and umpires briefly debated whether to resume the game from the point that it stopped, but eventually agreed that the game go into the books as official.

“It happens,” said tournament organizer Sonny Jones of Marine Corps Community Services’ Semper Fit Athletics, which oversees the Marine regional tournament program.

Another point of debate was the weather, with Typhoon Matsa lurking to the south. Wednesday’s forecast called for high winds and periods of rain, raising the possibility that play might be delayed, perhaps for a few days until Matsa moved on.

As one, all four coaches appealed to Jones and other Semper Fit Athletics officials to try to complete the tournament Tuesday night but Jones decided to try to complete the tournament as scheduled Wednesday.

“You’re talking finishing play at 3 a.m., then you’d have to wait for the All-Tournament and All-Marine tryout camp selections, then the closing ceremony,” said Gerald Sharber of Semper Fit Athletics. “You’re talking getting out of here at 5 a.m. Then most of these people have to go to work.”

Dave Ornauer / S&S

Matt Lange of Marine Corps Base Camp Butler takes his cuts against 3rd Force Service Support Group on Tuesday at Camp Foster, Okinawa. Two-time defending champion 3rd Force beat Base 11-4.

Tournament scoreboard

At Field 1, Foster Field Complex, Camp Foster, Okinawa

Double-elimination playoffs

Tuesday’s games

3rd Force Service Support Group 11, Marine Corps Base Camp S.D. Butler 4

1st Marine Aircraft Wing 25, 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force 2, 5 inn., 12-run mercy rule

Wing 14, 3rd Force 13, 6 inn., time limit

Base 27, Division 14, 6 inn., time limit

Wednesday’s games

3rd Force vs. Base

Wing vs. 3rd Force or Base

Wing vs. 3rd Force or Base, if necessary

author picture
Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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