By Tim HippsDecember 16, 2008
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Dec. 16, 2008) -- Sgt. 1st Class Dexter Avery has been selected to play for Team USA in the 2009 Border Battle, a slow-pitch softball game between the United States and Canada.
Avery, 38, of Fort Huachuca, Ariz., will be rewarded July 18 for a decade of All-Army Softball excellence during the 4th World Cup of Softball at the Amateur Softball Association's Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City.
"Excitement beyond words," Avery said of being named to the 15-man U.S. roster. "It's just a privilege to be able to move up the ladder from playing backyard ball, to playing organized ball in high school and college, and then get to play on one of the highest levels that softball has to offer.
"In softball, I don't think you can get any higher than this. When you are asked to play with the best players at that level and you get a chance to play with them against guys from another country and you're representing the U.S., I don't think you can get any bigger than that. I'm just ecstatic."
All-Air Force coach Steve "Pup" Shortland of Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, will coach Team USA for the game that will be televised by ESPN.
Avery, an outfielder who hits with power, has maintained a batting average in the .700s while representing Fort Hood, Texas; Yongsan Garrison and Camp Carroll, South Korea; and Fort Huachuca throughout a decade of All-Army and All-Armed Forces softball.
He helped All-Army teams win the Armed Forces Championship for times. He was selected eight times for the All-Armed Forces Team that advanced to play in the ASA National Championship Tournament, and he was named to the Armed Forces All-Tourney Team seven times.
Avery, however, does not play softball for accolades, titles or trophies.
"When you love to play the game, most people see that in you," he explained. "And when you respect the game, I think they see that even more."
Championships and kudos, Avery contends, do not rank in the same ballpark as the jokes, the laughter, the heartaches, the pain and the camaraderie derived from competing in military softball tryout camps and tournaments.
"Of all the tournaments I've played in, I think the Armed Forces Tournament is the most nerve-racking," he explained. "My first year in '97, I think that was the most nervous I've ever been to play a game because it's so built up around 'you need to do this, you need to be your best at this, nobody's going to give you nothing and everybody is going to be after you.'
"And when you get there, that's exactly how it is. Nothing is given to you. You know how it is when you play on the upper level, all those guys want to do pretty much is hit. But on the Armed Forces level, everybody is playing defense. If you get a hit, you earn it. There is none of that, 'I'm going to let it go through the hole because I don't think I can get to it.' People are diving and going all-out, nonstop.
"It's one of the hardest tournaments and one of the most enjoyable tournaments I play in every year. It makes you a better person and a better player because the camaraderie between the guys is so tight because being together for almost a whole month you get to know each other in and out - what buttons to push, what buttons not to push, how to get a person to play better, and how to get a person to relax. It's a big brotherhood.
"And when all the teams come together, it's just a joy. We get to see old faces we haven't seen in a long time and I just love it. To play with the best of the best, you really get to see what you're made of."
Avery, a 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pounder who averages 12-15 homers per tournament, plays left-center field for the All-Army Team and left field for the All-Armed Forces squad. Not gifted with blazing speed for an outfielder, he compensates by getting a good read and jump on the ball. Although not flashy, his arm is solid. And his glove was deemed golden in 1998 by a civilian league in which he played shortstop while stationed at Fort Hood.
"I'm not one to talk about my athletic ability. I like to let it speak for itself," Avery said. "But I think the most important thing, probably, was being consistent at what I was doing. Another major thing was attitude - never being a disrespecting player, always giving everybody their props, always wanting to win.
"I always gave it everything I had. No matter how tired I was or what was going on, I was always there to win. If we were up 20 runs or down 20 runs, I still maintained the same mentality about the game - and just having that drive to continue to try to get better every year."
A native of Decatur, Ga., Avery played football, basketball and baseball for Monticello High School in Jasper County, Ga. After playing two seasons of basketball at Patrick Henry State Junior College in Monroeville, Ala., he played two seasons of baseball at Columbus State University. He then served three years as athletic director for the Boys & Girls Club of America in Columbus, Ga., before enlisting in the Army, which opened the door for his globetrotting softball career.
"I originally planned on only being in for probably four years, but I liked it, I enjoyed it," Avery said. "I enjoyed being around Soldiers, so I stayed in."
Avery firmly believes in the adage that it's not whether you win or lose, but more importantly, how you play the game.
"It doesn't matter how you finish," he said. "It's how you compete with those guys. Everybody wants to win. Nobody wants to lose. But we go there as the underdogs from the beginning and we always have people on our side that played on other teams.
" They always come up to us and thank us for representing the United States Army, Marines, Air Force and the Navy. They tell us that they really appreciate that we give them the chance to play the game they love. Just being around that and seeing that, you try to give back to it as much as you can."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)