By Jeff CrawleySeptember 7, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla., Sept. 7, 2017 -- Selection is underway for the All-Army men's softball team with 25 Soldiers vying for a spot on the 15-man roster. The final team will be going for the Army's sixth straight title at the Armed Forces Men's Softball Championship later this month.
"This year is one of the most competitive camps that we've had," said second-year Head Coach Lt. Col. Ron Colombo, a communications officer with the Army Special Operations Aviation Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. "Cuts are going to be in three days, and I still have no idea who the final 15 will be."
Seventeen veterans and eight rookies from about 130 applicants were invited to the tryouts at Fort Sill, which will be conducted Aug. 22 through Sept. 16, said Assistant Coach Sgt. Maj. Jim Cabrera, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
The first practice was a game played between the veterans and the rookies, then the players were split into two teams: Black and Gold. The players are being evaluated as they play scrimmage games against each other, as well as how they perform in local tournaments, Colombo said.
"I look for team players who can hit for power, who can hit for average and play solid defense," said Colombo, who played for the team in 2012. "Being able to play multiple positions is a plus because you're limited in your roster spots."
The slow-pitch game is played under Amateur Softball Association Rules. The military championship tournament will follow "A" National rules, which limits a team to 10 home runs in the seven-inning game. Any home runs after 10 are an automatic out.
"You really hurt yourself in this game when you get solo home runs," the head coach explained. "Our philosophy is when you have two or three guys on base, then I want the batter to hit it out because you're taking advantage of a home run. When we hit our 10th home run, I'd like the team to have at least 25 to 30 runs at that point."
Players have the option of morning physical training on their own. About 7:30 a.m., everyone meets for a team breakfast. From 9-11 a.m. they are on the fields of the Maj. Gen. Dinges Sports Complex for batting, and infield and outfield practice. After a team lunch, mandatory PT is conducted at 2:30 p.m. at the fitness center.
"I let them do whatever they do at their home station. If they like to lift weights they do weight training; or they can get on the cardio machines," Colombo said.
Every evening the Black, and Gold teams play two or three intersquad scrimmages where Colombo is constantly evaluating the players.
"I want guys to come up to bat with an approach -- see where the defense is playing them, see where the gaps and holes are," he said. "I want them to understand the situation, to understand the moment."
For example, if there is a runner on first base with one out, the batter doesn't hit the ball up the middle because it's easy to turn a double play; or if there are runners on second and third base, the batter needs to hit the ball in the outfield, Colombo explained.
The team played in a tournament in Oklahoma City, Aug. 26, against top teams, as well as during the Labor Day weekend. Those tournaments gave Colombo a good opportunity to evaluate his players because he said they were out of their element playing high-ranked teams that they've never seen before.
"I want to see how they handle that moment. Do they kind of back off? Or do they excel and play really well?" he said.
The team is also scheduled to play a Goodyear plant team Sept. 7, in Lawton.
Four Fort Sill Soldiers are among the 25 active-duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers who are trying to make the team.
Spc. Johnathan Ortiz, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, said his background playing high school and college baseball as well as one year in the minors with the Lexington (Ky.) Legends helped him get invited to the tryouts.
Staff Sgt. Leonardo Aviles, Dental Activity, was on the All-Army team in 2012, 2014 and last year.
Capt. Rashad Shelton, a student in the FA Captains Career Course is about to graduate, and said the tryouts and possibly making the team would not interfere with his studies.
"Regardless of who makes the team this squad is going to be the best that the Army has seen in awhile," Shelton said.
Sgt. Daniel Olvera Jr., Fires Center of Excellence, Headquarters Detachment, is also attempting to make the team.
Two team co-captains have already been selected, and their addition was based on experience as an All-Army softball player and leadership skills, Colombo said.
The role of the captain is to set an example for the players, especially the rookies, said Sgt. 1st Class James Segrue, who was also a captain on the 2016 squad.
"I need to work harder than anyone on the field, so they can strive to do the same thing," said Segrue, a protective services officer at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
Staff Sgt. Eric Querry, an Army Reserve Soldier based in Austin, Texas, is the other co-captain.
Army will go for its sixth straight title at the Armed Forces Men's Softball Championship tournament that will be hosted by the Air Force, and held Sept. 18-24, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Former All-Army men's softball Head Coach Victor Rivera, who led the team to four straight championships, gave a motivational talk to the players at this year's tryouts. Colombo said he wants to continue the successful program created by Rivera.
"Now its my job, and Jim Cabrera's job to maintain that level of excellence."