CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Joe Sutter’s resume is impressive. Two-time Most Valuable Player of the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Softball Tournament. Three-time participant on gold medal-winning teams. Two-time All-Marine and All-Armed Forces selection.
Yet because of duty, he can’t go to this year’s All-Marine tryout camp and try to help the Marines reclaim the All-Armed Forces tournament gold medal they won in 1999.
“It’s frustrating, but I understand that I’m a Marine first,” said Sutter, a staff sergeant from Rosemont, Minn., who earned his Marine regional honors while playing on Okinawa from 1999-2002, and now plays for and coaches Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
And he’s not the only All-Marine veteran in that situation.
Four-time All-Armed Forces outfielder Gary Chaney of 3rd Force Service Support Group and others, must stay behind as well, their commands say, to fill the gaps left by Marines deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
“Of course, it’s frustrating,” said two-time All-Marine infielder Chad Calvert, a staff sergeant with the 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force on Okinawa, who also can’t go to camp this year.
Do Sutter and Calvert consider themselves fortunate that their commands let them spend a week hitting white balls with metal clubs?
“Yes, but on the other hand, do I wish I was out there with them? Yes,” Sutter said, referring to deployed Marines. “I bet every other Marine out here would say the same thing.”
“It’s always mission accomplishment and troop welfare first,” Calvert said. “The mission does take away from Marine Corps softball, but it doesn’t anger me.”
Of the 90 players in the tournament, just 20 were eligible to continue to the All-Marine tryout camp, scheduled for Aug. 16-Sept. 5 at Cherry Point Air Station, N.C. And of those, only three had been to a camp.
“Slim pickings,” said Mike Walker of Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa Semper Fit Athletics, which oversees the Marine Regional program.
Walker, Sonny Jones and Mike Desmone of Semper Fit evaluate those players available to go to camp, with the help of coaches’ votes. When the tournament ends Friday, six were to be selected to go to Cherry Point.
“It comes down to ... who can go and who can’t due to training, duty, the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Walker said.
Like Sutter and Calvert, Walker says he understands that the mission comes first but argues that Marine Corps softball, part of the $1.5 billion Armed Forces sports industry, is part of the mission as well.
“It gives these guys the opportunity to better themselves,” Walker said. “It’s a morale booster.”
The situation provides an opening for some newcomers to attend the camp.
“Us younger guys are lucky to be in that position,” said Hawaii shortstop Rory Chapin, who went 11-for-22 with five RBIs in the first four days of play here. “It’s time for us to step up and follow in their shadows.”
“For the moment, it’s our turn,” added outfielder Israel Stone of host Marine Corps Base Camp S.D. Butler.
Chapin and Stone each played their first regional tournament last year and weren’t selected for camp. “I was pretty disappointed,” Chapin said.
Sutter believes Chapin could succeed in camp.
“He has a great attitude. He gives you 150 percent at all times,” Sutter said. “He practices like he plays, all hustle and is willing to learn. Everything a coach loves to have in a ballplayer.”
Base shortstop Kevin Healy, who went to camp last year, speaks similarly of Stone, who finished 17-for-31 with six RBIs and six stolen bases in Base’s nine games.
“He has a shot, absolutely,” Healy said. “He has a lot of speed, he plays a good outfield, has a strong arm and is a good directional hitter.”