Pacific Force coach Field heads to South Carolina
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — About two decades ago, Don Field returned from a church-league softball game in his native Utah an angry man, fed up with the way his team was playing, how players were being used and most of all, the coach.
“If you don’t like it, you coach,” said his wife, Norma.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” Field said last week.
Field, who left Okinawa on Saturday for a new job at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., guided the most successful interservice softball team in Pacific history.
The 57-year-old, a civilian and facilities manager at Torii Station the past four years, coached for 17 seasons on Okinawa. Since 1991, he was affiliated with Pacific Force, which has captured 39 Pacific interservice Grand Slam tournament titles since the circuit formed in 1989.
“It’s been a good run. It’s been a lot of fun,” Field said.
It all began by chance back in 1986. Working at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Field was sent on temporary assignment to Kadena Air Base, where he quickly became enamored of the tropical paradise and vowed to return.
He did in January 1987, hired for a civilian job at Kadena. A year later, he began coaching a team during the island’s so-called “recruiting wars,” when open clubs comprised of GIs sponsored by private firms tried to outbid each other for talent.
Field recalled a chance meeting at the main field on Camp Foster in January 1991 with Bob Wilder, a Marine who founded the team that would become Pacific Force.
“I told him he had players I wanted. He said I had players he wanted,” Field recalled. “So we said why not merge? It only makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s how we got together.”
Field assisted for two years, took the head coaching job when Wilder left in 1993, then stepped aside when he returned to Okinawa in 1994 and assisted until Wilder left for good in 1997.
Over the years, Pacific Force attracted a virtual who’s who of All-Marine and All-Air Force players from Kadena and Marine bases on island. It even lured two sluggers from Yokota Air Base, Japan, Roger Underwood and Bill Cramblett, who played for the team during Grand Slam tournaments.
Next in line behind Pacific Force’s 39 Grand Slam titles? Misawa Air Base, Japan, with three.
In what became Field’s final year at the helm, Pacific Force won three of four Grand Slam titles and had a record of 83-2.
Field won’t compare teams or say which was the best, though from 1997-99, Pacific Force won 10 straight Grand Slams and became the only club to sweep all four in one calendar year.
“I didn’t try to mold the team. Each team had its own personality, its own way of playing,” Field said. “You can’t compare. I don’t want to try. They’re all great teams. They had to be to do what they did.”
Pacific Force’s greatest feat may have come in 1999, when the team’s entire starting outfield — Byron Randolph of Kadena and Marines Gary Chaney, Lonnie Dillard and Tommy Carlo — started for the All-Armed Forces squad. Pacific Force pitcher Nathan Hales was that team’s assistant.
Former Kadena Falcons coach Kevin Meade, now a chief master sergeant at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, called Field the “cornerstone” of Pacific softball.
“Without a doubt, teams go to the Pacificwide tournaments just to beat Pacific Force,” Meade said. “Don created this. In our military softball community, no one equals the accomplishments this one person has made over the years, on and off the field.”
Field says he’s kept in touch with the likes of Meade and Hales over the years and is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with former teammates Tim Vannoy and Henry Trier, who also live in the Carolinas.
Inheriting the mantle from Field will be Ernest J. Brown of Kadena Air Base, who’s been with the team for two seasons.
“I may be coaching the team, but nobody replaces Don Field,” he said.