Okinawa Marines mix it up for regional tourney
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Friends and teammates one day. Sworn enemies the next.
That’s what more than 30 Marines face in the next few days, as the Firecracker Shootout Open Softball Tournament gives way to the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Tournament starting Monday.
For 51 weeks out of the year, they play for open traveling teams that enter tournaments such as the Firecracker, the second stop on the Pacific interservice Grand Slam circuit.
Starting Monday, they’ll disperse and suit up for their respective command teams in the Marine regionals. Players who’ve competed against each other all year now must play alongside each other.
“It’s a big adjustment,” said pitcher Jesus Dela Rosa, who along with one other player from the Okinawa Heat will play Monday for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in the regionals.
The big issue, Dela Rosa says, is chemistry.
“We’ve used this tournament [Firecracker] to hone our individual skills. Now, you have young players and veterans all coming from other open teams, and you have to get used to each other as teammates.”
Along with the two from the Heat, three Marines playing for Yellow Box will change stripes Monday, as will 10 each from Pacific Force and BK’s, and six from Ballbusters II.
Five Okinawa-based teams will compete in the Marine regionals: Wing, 3rd Force Service Support Group, U.S. Naval Hospital Camp Lester, 3rd Marine Division-Expeditionary Force and defending champion Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.
“It’s the nature of the sport,” said Yellow Box player-coach John O’Brien, who plays for Wing this week. “Root against him one day, then the next you’re cheering for him to get a base hit because he’s your teammate now.”
“Now, we get to slug it out with each other for a week,” added Ballbusters II coach Will Henderson, who will lead Wing starting Monday.
While the regionals’ main purpose is to select six players for the All-Marine tryout camp later this month at Cherry Point Air Station, N.C., “we know regionals is also for bragging rights,” said Tony Pesquera, who will come over from BK’s to be Division’s player-coach.
“We’ve already been talking,” said Pesquera, adding that five BK’s players will suit up for Division and five more for 3rd Force.
The players know each other so well that it makes the games more competitive, Pesquera said.
“We’ve practiced with each other and played with or against each other. We know what each other hits, we know what each other looks for,” he said. “Regionals will be competitive, and knowing each other so well is what will make them competitive.”
Even lowly Hospital, which hasn’t won a game in the regionals since 1993, will get a boost this year from the presence of former All-Navy and All-Marine slugger Mel Harris, Pesquera said.
“His leadership should give Hospital a competitive edge, and motivate them to win at least one or two games,” he said.
How the mixes of players from different teams will play out lends an air of interest to the regionals, Henderson added.
“You always want to play with certain guys, but it’s also interesting to see how well you do against them,” he said.
“It’s just weird seeing them on the other side of the ball.”