All the way back in 1970, I was in the US Army and stationed at a small base in Northern Virginia. It was really too small to make much of a post baseball team, but there were a couple of other bases nearby and they were allowed to put their teams together jointly to form a team for the Army Tournament. They needed a first baseman and in utter desperation picked me.
Back that far the country was divided into various “Army” regions. It was a carry over from World War II and there were five of them, numbered one through six (minus 2nd Army for reasons I don’t know). Each “Army” was to have a tournament to determine a team that would play in the “All Army Tournament”, There would be eight teams (the Far East–Korea, Japan, etc, Europe, and Southern Command–Panama, Puerto Rico, etc were the other teams) and the winning team would be declared Army Champ.
We did some pre-tournament playing against other nearby Army posts and did reasonably well. We also got in a few games against local semi-pro teams and again did OK. We won more than we lost, but, frankly, we were nothing special. But it’s the Army and new guys transfer in all the time and by the day of the First Army tournament, we’d picked up two really good players (a pitcher and a center fielder who could hit a ton). I hit second (no power but still decent speed) and anchored an infield that was never going to be compared to Connie Mack’s $100,000 infield (more like a buck-twenty).
Then we astonished everyone, no one more so than ourselves. We got on a hot streak and rolled into the tournament semi-finals. We beat a team from Fort Meade, Maryland for a shot at the finals, then actually won the championship against a team from Fort Dix, New Jersey (both were a lot bigger than us so they were considered huge upsets). That put us in the All-Army Tournament held in DC (actually Northern Virginia, so it was kind of a home game for us).
It was a double elimination tournament and we lost game one, so we had to come through the loser’s bracket in order to win the championship. We got on another roll and ended up getting through the loser’s bracket to face Fifth Army champ, a team from Fort Riley, Kansas. In the first game we picked up a couple of early runs (I scored one of them), then hung on. With the score something like 4-3 (I think, it’s been a long time, team), we got to the top of the eighth ahead. Fort Riley managed to load the bases with one out. That brought about my only heroic moment in my entire baseball career (hold the cheering until I’m finished). I was playing in front of the runner on first, when the batter hit a screamer just inside the first base line. I’m left-handed, so I had to reach across my body to snag the ball for the second out. The momentum of the reach pulled me across the base into foul territory. When I turned I saw the ump with his hand up and heard him call “out, out” (I thought maybe he was seeing double). Apparently I’d managed to drag my foot across first while stepping into foul territory and recorded an unassisted double play (now you can cheer). I looked at the ump, looked at the ball, looked at the base, then flipped the ball to the ump and headed to the bench (not fancy enough field for a dugout). They slapped me on the back, I told the coach, “had it all the way” (ever notice how much “heroism” is sheer dumb luck?), and we went down in order in the bottom of the eighth. Fortunately, so did Fort Riley in the ninth. So there would be one last game. We lost and Fort Riley claimed the title (we did get a nice trophy).
At the end of the tournament, the powers-that-be always announced an “All-Army” team. We looked over the list, and there was my name as one of the first basemen. I was fairly sure it was a typo. I’d hit OK, but had been nothing super special (I think I hit about .320 more or less, but after all these years that’s a guess). Someone suggested it was the double play that got me on the team. I decided they were right (do you hear TV movie music in the background?) because nothing else made sense.
I got back to post where everyone did their studious best to ignore me lest I get a big head. A couple of months later I was transferred to Germany. I wondered if there was a correlation.
Tags: US Army baseball