Youth Baseball Meets the U.S. Army

Join the Army, see Virginia

I managed to get out of Viet Nam in late 1968 and found myself stationed at a small base in northern Virginia. I stayed there into December 1969, which means I was there during baseball season. It also means I was there for the youth baseball season.

The local youth baseball league had a deal with the post. If we could field a team, we could play in the local league. If not, the post kids could sign up and would be distributed among the town teams. In 1969 we had a dozen or so kids sign up, so the post could field one team (age 10-11). What it needed was a coach. One of the fathers was an old Sergeant First Class. Stripes look like this:

E-7 stripes

He’d been in Korea and Nam and was about ready to retire. One of the kids was his youngest and he agreed to coach the team. He needed two assistants and I was still single, didn’t have much to do in the evenings, loved baseball, and agreed to take one of the positions (OK, so I was boring). I ended up as first base coach and infield coach, the third guy took pitchers and catchers, while Sarge instructed hitting and coached third. Ole Sarge was Army all the way. We didn’t march in step to the field or anything, but the team stood at parade rest when he was addressing them, the “bunt” sign was a  salute, and the “take” sign was present arms.

Like this, but without the rifle and in a baseball jersey

The team was different from the local teams. Almost all the local teams were composed of kids who’d been born in the county, were schooled there, and thought of it as home. They were also all white. We had guys from Albuquerque, Seattle, Detroit, and one kid whose mom was from the Philippines. We came in three shades (the kid from Detroit was black), all sorts of backgrounds, and all had short hair. The locals tended to have hair of different lengths, with one red-headed guy with wiry hair done up in an Afro. Think Oscar Gamble in red.

Oscar Gamble in full ‘Fro

It was as close as any of the local teams had to color.

We were also good. We had two kids who could pitch, four or five who could catch and throw, and about six who could hit. So we managed to dominate the league. There were six local teams, so we played 18 games over about two months. I think we lost one game (two at most) and rolled to the league pennant. We did have a  problem unique to our team. In the Army fathers (none of the kids had a mom in the service) transferred bases with some frequency. I think we lost one kid to a transfer,which left us with two subs. Of course we didn’t have to worry too awfully much about losing a  kid to a two-week summer vacation in Shenandoah Park in the middle of the season.

We also had one other “problem” unique to the team, the black and the Filipino kid. Well, there weren’t any of them on any of the other teams, so they drew comment. Turns out both were pretty good and as the first base coach you could hear a lot of comments. Some were downright racist, others were backhanded compliments like “Look at that colored boy run. Wish we had one of them.” (BTW “colored” wasn’t the word used, but this is a  family site.) Or “Hey, that little yella kid can sure hit. Wish we had one of them” (Again, it wasn’t “yella” I was hearing.). I never pointed out that the simple integration of the local youth baseball league might actually get the team  “one of them,” especailly the black kid (fairly large black population in the county).  I will admit the parents were much more of a problem than the kids. The kids only disliked us when we won.

I left before the next season and I think I remember Sarge retiring about the time I left. I ended up in Germany and a couple of kids ended up there too (their Dad’s were transferred same time and place as me). A friend of mine wrote me in mid-1970 that the post team in Virginia was whipping up on the locals again that year. I decided that they had obviously learned well all the many lessons I’d taught them (Damned right I’m taking credit for the wins. The losses are the new coach’s fault). Hopefully present arms wasn’t still the “take” sign.


3 Responses to “Youth Baseball Meets the U.S. Army”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Very nicely done. Great story. I enjoy reading about these experiences from your past. They’re very different from my own, but always interesting and entertaining.

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    You served in Vietnam? My hat’s off to you, “V”. I mean that with sincerity. And a good Veterans Day to you, as well.

    (Who was on the VERGE of enlisting in the Air Force in 1985, but, about a week or two before having to head down to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, had a panic attack about being in the military, and I called Sergent Goldstein (the recruiter), and asked him if it was too late for me to chicken out. There was sadness in his voice when he replied, “No.” I was very relieved, but I’ll never know if being in the Air Force for a hitch would have knocked some sense and self-discipline into me. Maybe it would have. I’ll never know for sure).

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