Players try to make a mark in Pacificwide softball event
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The Pacificwide Open Softball Tournament isn’t an official qualifier for All-Service softball tryout camps.
But to players and coaches, it’s the next-best thing: a showcase for young players vying for berths and a chance for veterans and coaches to scout out potential All-Armed Forces players.
“It’s a good judge not just of raw ability but what players can do in pressure situations,” said Daniel Simpson, a four-time All-Armed Forces second baseman playing for Korea’s Kunsan Wolf Pack.
“You find a gem in the rough. That’s what you’re looking for,” said former All-Army coach Andy Watts, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., but playing for Korea’s International Guzzlers.
Winning a team title or standing out individually doesn’t mean automatic passage to a tryout camp or September’s All-Armed Forces tournament at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. But guys such as Watts, Simpson and a handful of others make sure their respective service sports offices and team coaches know what stars are out here. By their count, up to 12 Pacificwide players could play for their respective services.
“We let them know these guys have the potential,” Watts said, adding that he regularly chats with All-Army coach Vic Rivera, Marine coach Scotty Cobb, Navy coach Earlier West and Air Force coach Steve Shortland.
Years ago, all four Armed Services selected players for their sports tryout camps through a command tournament structure. But high costs and the military drawdown after the Persian Gulf War saw the tournaments replaced with selection by resume. Only the Marine Corps still runs regional tournament programs in men’s softball, soccer and basketball.
Players and coaches say tournaments such as the Pacificwide simulate conditions of higher-level competition.
“We have all the Armed Services here. It’s indicative of what they’ll see at the Armed Forces tournament,” Simpson said.
Catcher Cherylton McRae, playing the Pacificwide for defending champion Yellow Box of Okinawa, agreed.
“The intensity here is even higher than the nationals,” McRae said of the All-Armed Forces tournament, in which he’s played 12 times.
Of qualities sought in a player, McRae, Simpson, Watts and others say ability and skills are givens but personality counts, too.
“Chemistry is important, absolutely,” said Watts, 44, a chief warrant officer fourth class from Tampa, Fla.
But to get to an All-Service camp, play in the All-Armed Forces and then be selected for nationals also means having your resume accepted, then convincing your duty section to let you go away for six weeks or more.
Tough to do with today’s high military operations tempo.
Carlo Aguon, a 30-year-old staff sergeant at Kadena Air Base, said he’d like to try.
“I’d like to go,” he said. “Just the camaraderie, and to see if you can hang with the best of the best.”
He’d played mostly intramural ball in nine years in the Air Force until then-coach Don Field of Pacific Force convinced him to try open ball.
“The level of play made me want to step up my game and say, ‘I want to be one of those guys,’” he said.