Voices, actions of local coaches make difference as Firecracker softball begins

Mikawa shortstop Calvin Martinez fields the ball during his team's tournament-opening 21-8 loss to American Legion.


By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 3, 2014

Sometimes, people’s voices and actions can make a difference, if the run-up to this weekend’s Firecracker Shootout, a Pacificwide softball tournament for interservice teams, was an indicator.

The Firecracker, hosted by Foster Athletics on Okinawa since 1995, at one time featured the second-largest contingent of off-island teams of any of the so-called Pacific Grand Slam tournaments. As many as 16 teams one year, from far-away locales such as Hawaii and Guam, would attend the event, which also served as a warm-up for the now-defunct Marine Far East Regional Tournament.

But in recent years, budget cuts have limited Marine Corps Community Services in what aid it could provide off-island teams. No longer can MCCS provide bus transportation to teams going to and from Naha International Airport or Kadena Air Base. And Building 484 on Foster, a temporary billeting facility used to house visiting teams, is no longer available. All that left visiting teams to fend for themselves or seek help locally from on-island teams, players and coaches.

And the latter have begun taking things into their own hands, in an effort to “build the tournament back up to where it used to be,” said Robert Putney of Club Red and one of the longtime veterans of the Firecracker as a player and coach.

Evidence of that sort of assistance was seen Wednesday, when several players and coaches, including Putney, spent the day shuttling players from Naha Airport to Foster.

Visiting teams also reached out to billeting facilities such as Kadena’s Shogun Inn and Navy Gateway Inns and Suites, and Foster’s WestPac Lodge, to try to secure rooms on a space-available basis, there being no way for visiting teams to get official travel orders as was prevalent in the 1990s and 2000s.

Coaches also stepped up on behalf of visiting teams when the tournament schedule was announced at Wednesday’s pre-tournament coaches meeting. The 16 men’s teams were split into round-robin pools of eight teams each, but only the top four in each pool were initially eligible to qualify for the two-day double-elimination round starting Saturday morning.

Coaches pointed out that off-island teams spent thousands of dollars each to secure enough airline tickets and hotel rooms for their players, and it wouldn’t be fair, they said, for one of those teams to be limited to two days of pool play for that investment. They cited the Memorial Day weekend Pacificwide tournament at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, in which all 18 men’s open teams qualified for the double-elimination playoffs.

Initially, Foster Athletics officials said the contracts for everything from tournament staff to field maintenance to umpires had already been finalized for a set amount of games and it could not be changed. But a call was made to MCCS’ highers-up, who agreed to let five teams in each pool qualify for the playoffs. A new schedule was drawn up and distributed to the teams as the tournament began Thursday evening.

Rather than longing for the days when the tournament was larger and truly Pacificwide in nature, both off- and on-island teams are putting their hands together to find ways to revitalize it. Rather than accept a schedule they felt worked to the detriment of visiting teams, coaches took matters to the right people, who addressed it.

Jeremy Griffin takes his cuts during defending men's champion American Legion's 21-8 tournament-opening win over Mikawa.


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