All Army softball try outs under way
August 30, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- With 10 years under his belt as a coach of the All Army softball team, Victor Rivera sat in the stands behind home plate Aug. 25 watching half his squad play the Lawton Ice Company, a team of local talent, in the Co-Op tournament at Cannoneer Complex.
Four days into the All Army softball camp at Fort Sill, the head coach said the reception he and his team received has already contributed to a good camp atmosphere.
"We've had great support from everyone and appreciate all the friendly people who go beyond the call of duty to make us feel welcome and at home," said Rivera, a retired command sergeant major.
Fort Sill will be home for most of his 25 players until Sept. 14, however, 10 will be cut to get to the 15-man roster limit for the Armed Forces Softball Championship.
"This was a big recruiting year for us, and it was the first year I had every player here recommended by someone," said Rivera. "This is probably the best recruiting year in terms of talent so the playing field is about equal."
To get from 25 down to 15 Rivera said he looks for characteristics that suggest players will be good team members.
"Sometimes you might have the best athlete, but he might not fit in with the plan I have," he said. "I believe discipline, teamwork and ability equals victory. You can be the best player, but if you're not part of a team and do everything by yourself, you won't make the team."
Rivera said slight differences will show between players when things don't go their way.
"Some of these guys are happy when they're doing well, but when things are going bad they don't know how to get themselves out of the hole," he said. "If a player hits into a double play, I'm going to look at his next at-bat to see how he came out of it does he have his head down or is he putting pressure on himself?"
Sgt. 1st Class Ron Perry, a veteran player and Fort Sill artilleryman, is well acquainted with Rivera's coaching philosophies having made the team seven times. Should he get past the player cuts, this will likely be Perry's last go round as he plans to retire in the coming months.
"It brings a joy to my heart being around a lot of good people again," said the 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery NCO. "This year we've got a lot of good new players; it's going to be really competitive to make the team."
Taking the field for the game, Perry said he wants to show his skills at each of the infield bases to give Rivera a look at his versatility.
"I believe once we gel we have a great shot at winning the gold medal," said Perry. "The new core of talent we brought in this year is going to do the Army well in years to come; once the vets here stop playing we'll leave Army softball in good hands."
Rivera said every pitch, catch, hit or throw could be critical in the round robin format armed forces tourney.
"Losing one game can cost us a shot at the gold medal," he said. "So I look for the kind of players who will contribute to great team chemistry."
The coach said he's also looking for fundamentally sound ballplayers who can adapt to the changing weather or field conditions.
As for hitting, the power game is no problem. Rivera said anyone on the team is capable of hitting home runs, but tournament rules only allow teams to hit eight round-trippers per game. Any ball that leaves the yard after No. 8 is just a long out. To make the most of those homers, he likes to score about 20 runs so that means getting base runners before a teammate hits another long one.
"At this level it's all about bat control, it takes skill to hit the ball where the other team isn't playing and keep the inning alive. You have to have speed and use it to your advantage hit the ball on the ground or in the gaps and run hard," said Rivera.
The only homers teams can hit all day are the inside the park models which don't count against the eight-homer limit.
Going through their paces, All Army infielders fired quick throws to first base and outfielders hit the cutoff man with sharp, accurate throws. Fielders backed each other up, and hitters struck line drives into gaps in the defense. At times things went wrong, like a player hitting into a double play, or the Lawton icemen plated a few of their own runners. Through it all Rivera quietly sat taking it all in.
"I don't dwell on whether we win or lose the first tournament, instead I look for things we can improve on," he said.