By James Brabenec, Fort SillMarch 1, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Supervising vehicle mechanics for the 578th Forward Support Company, Sgt. Emmanuel Carrillo feels the pressures that come with managing people; he finds relief by refining and practicing an off-duty passion.
"Some people drink, others go fishing; but when I need to relieve some stress or just get away from the demands of Army life, I go hit softballs," said the compact, powerful looking Soldier.
Twice a week as temperatures dip down into the 30s and 40s, Carrillo hones his hitting on the Butner Field diamond at Fort Sill.
Set up in the opposing batter's box, an unusual batting tee suspends a length of cord with a loop that resembles a hangman's noose over home plate. Positioning that tee on the inner or outer half of the plate allows Carrillo to practice hitting to all fields. For now, he's content to work on pull hitting lining balls into left field.
Selecting one of the smudged spheres, he secures it into the loop and takes his batting stance. Eyes on the ball and bat cocked behind his right ear, he swings the bat on a flat to slightly rising arc. It slices through the strike zone, impacting the ball with a dull crack sound. The resulting line drive launches another ball out toward several others grouped near the left field fence.
Gone are the days of resonating aluminum bats and the pinging sound of a well-hit ball. Carrillo instead opts for a composite bat, each of which cost a couple hundred dollars and are good for up to 1,000 hits. After that, the material can split in a manner similar to wood bats. Because of that, he carries three bats with him to practice and hits about 30-35 balls with each one during the practice session.
With no one to field his hits, Carrillo lays his bat down and walks out into the field with a duffel bag. Stooping to grab a softball from a couple dozen scattered about the left field turf, he looks like the lone participant in an athlete's Easter egg hunt. With the fluid motion developed playing baseball from childhood to his early adult years near Dallas, he fires the ball toward the dirt infield. Except for an occasional vehicle passing by on a nearby street, the cares of the world pass away and all is quiet. The ball briefly breaks the spell as it caroms off another and comes to rest near pitcher's mound.
Eventually about 30 softballs lay in a cluster near the batter's box, and Carillo hefts a bat ready to propel another salvo of softballs into the night air.
The sergeant found his love for the game shortly after enlisting in 2003 when an advanced individual training drill sergeant invited him to play in a game. Since that introduction, Carrillo took his game on the road to ball parks in Korea and even Iraq. Along the way he's found something much more precious than stress relief.
"I've met and played with a lot of great people of all ranks," he said. "Many Soldiers don't get the opportunity to know a lieutenant colonel or sergeant major on a personal basis, but through softball I find they are just regular people who enjoy playing and competing."
Though he's played with guys who played on the Army or Air Force teams, his focus remains with the friendships he's developed.
"I've met guys at one post then ran into them somewhere else, and all we do is talk softball," he said.
Somewhere in the coming months as the cold northerly winds give way to spring, Carrillo and unit teammates will take to the ball diamonds for practice and intramural games. Perhaps, too, an off-post team will call on this third sacker with a knack for driving in base runners.
For now, time seemingly slows and stress dissolves as a solitary Soldier smacks softballs on the sandlot.