No funding for baseball, softball in Far East DODDS schools
Stars and Stripes March 27, 2008
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — It wasn’t what Kaleb Robinson bargained for when he transferred last summer to Kubasaki High School on Okinawa.
Back home in Temecula, Calif., his school competed annually with dozens of others for berths in California Interscholastic Federation state baseball tournaments.
Not on Okinawa, or anywhere else in the Pacific. Baseball and softball teams play for league bragging rights, but not in DODDS-Pacific Far East tournaments, as they do in other sports.
“Playing in state tournaments is part of the high school experience,” said Robinson, a sophomore catcher who’s played since age 4.
“It’s like being dressed up with no place to go,” said sophomore Leena Seamans, an outifelder on the Kubasaki softball team. “We feel left out when we see other teams leave here to go to a Far East.”
Baseball might be America’s national pastime, but it and softball are Johnny-come-lately sports where DODDS-Pacific is concerned.
Only since 2004 has baseball been played by DODDS schools in all Pacific regions. And Korea and Okinawa began playing fastpitch softball in 2005; DODDS-Japan is just making the transition from slowpitch to fastpitch this year.
So the road to putting Far Easts on the map is a distant one, at best.
For one, DODDS-Pacific simply doesn’t have the funding, Far East Activities Council chair Don Hobbs and other FEAC members have said.
The issue was discussed, and tabled due to lack of funds, at last week’s biannual FEAC meeting on Okinawa, council members told Stripes. The same thing has happened the past few years.
Privately, FEAC and other DODDS officials told Stripes it would take at least $150,000, perhaps twice that, for transportation, umpires, field maintenance and awards for Far East softball and baseball tournaments.
“I’ve long dreamed of someday only having to worry about the logistics of setting up a Far East” for softball and baseball, Hobbs said.
Over the past couple of years, Hobbs repeatedly has said “we should feel fortunate” that DODDS hasn’t cut any of its existing activities. Some coaches and players grumble about it, while others accept the reality.
“I understand where they’re coming from when they say no money, that they’re taking it for the war,” Seamans said. “But it gets to me.”
“We should find the money somewhere,” Robinson said.
“What do you do? Cut teaching positions to fund them?” longtime Yokota baseball coach Brian Kitts said. “I know Hobbs is doing everything he can just to keep the existing Far Easts going. There’s no money.”
That leaves teams to raise funds for themselves, as Seamans’ Kubasaki softball team did for a trip to Korea over spring break to play the DODDS-Korea schools in an invitational tournament. Kubasaki’s baseball team will host two Tokyo international schools in its inaugural Spring Fling tournament April 3-5 at Camp Foster.
“That’s not the same thing,” Seamans said. “We deserve the opportunity to travel to Far East tournaments like all the other sports.”
Setting up Far East baseball and softball tournaments, Hobbs said, would take the usual sorting out of logistics, such as whether Class AA and Class A schools would compete together or separately, whether particpants would have to qulify and whether international schools would be in the mix.
But baseball and softball tournaments also pose unique problems — weather and pitching.
“You can play soccer or football in a downpour. You can’t play baseball in a downpour,” Kitts said.
Teams might fly thousands of miles, only to walk head-on into monsoons that last for days, with no hope of rescheduling the tournament.
Then there’s pitching arms. Pitchers may only throw seven total innings in 48 hours.
“Nobody out here has more than two pitchers,” Kitts said.
“How can it happen? Pitching, weather, money; [baseball and softball are] not like any other tournaments.”
The bottom line is, while the desire is there, too many circumstances are working against a Far East for baseball and softball.
“Everybody loves to say we want to make it happen,” Kitts said. “Some of those things are idealistic, not realistic. This is not realistic.”
April 3-5 — Kubasaki “Spring Fling” Tournament, St. Mary’s and ASIJ of Tokyo vs. Kadena and Kubasaki.
May 16-17 — Kanto Plain Invitational, Yokota, Kinnick, Zama American, St. Mary’s and ASIJ plus three at-large teams.
April 7-9 — Daegu American Invitational, Seoul American, Osan American, Kubasaki and a Korean team.
April 25-26 — DODDS-Japan tournament/jamboree, Edgren, E.J. King, Yokota, Kinnick and Zama American.