Diamond Warriors
Military All-Stars' thoughts are with soldiers in Iraq

 June 11, 2005


When the United States Military All-Stars baseball team takes on a squad of Cape Cod Baseball League players tomorrow at McKeon Field in Hyannis, its players will have more than just diamonds on their mind. 

Johnny Hernandez of the U.S. Military All-Stars breaks his bat while facing Josh Santerre of the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Chatham A’s Saturday at McKeon Field in Hyannis. The squad of players from all five branches of the U.S. armed forces lost the exhibition game to a team of CCBL players by a 5-0 count. Center fielder Hernandez, one of more than two dozen Navy men on the armed forces team, grounded out to end the first inning en route to an 0-for-3 day. 
David Curran/Barnstable Patriot

The team is the first ever to have players from all five branches of the U. S. armed forces. The players' thoughts will be with their Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard compatriots fighting the War on Terror and in Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

"After everything is said and done, we're all on the same team," said Air Force 2nd Lt. Josh Werhle, one of several players interviewed by telephone this week from temporary barracks in Newport, R.I., the team's home base during the two-week tour of New England that started Monday. 

Game time tomorrow is 2:05 p.m., with pregame ceremonies starting at 1:30 p.m. The pregame will include a salute to veterans of foreign wars, and Sgt. Casey Wade of the U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Hyannis will sing the national anthem. 

"The Cape League is thrilled to be hosting this event and honored that Cape Cod has been chosen as part of the Red, White and Blue tour," said Judy Walden Scarafile, president of the CCBL. 

Werhle called the junket "kind of a goodwill tour." 

"We're happy to be here," he said. "We're supporting our boys in Iraq and we're supporting our boys stateside by playing baseball." 

With the All-Stars coming from all five branches and ranging in age from 18 to 44, they bring diverse backgrounds to the team, both militarily and on the diamond. Joe Ortiz probably has about as diverse a baseball resume as can be imagined. 

"I played pretty much every kind of ball you can find," said the U.S. Navy catcher. 

A San Antonio native, he was drafted out of high school, played college baseball at both the junior college and Division 1 levels, and spent time in a Mexican semipro league. He is recently returned from a tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which playing baseball - and the outlet for stress it affords him - were absent from his life.. 

"I didn't get to play for about a year and a half," Ortiz said. "I missed it dearly." 

A year ago, the aviation electronics technician was stationed on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, working 12-hour shifts on a flight deck where temperatures routinely reached 140 degrees, so it's easy to understand when he says the most important aspect of the Red, White and Blue Tour to him is "the fun factor." 

Sgt. Joshua Stueve of Dayton, Ohio, is in media relations at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. He said his branch of the service was hard pressed to allow personnel to take part in the Red, White and Blue Tour due to "the huge role the Marine Corps is playing in the War on Terror." 

"The Marines who are still serving are never far from our thoughts," he said. "For us to have the opportunity to play baseball and represent the Marine Corps in this way, we just feel very fortunate." 

The Red, White and Blue Tour has reunited former high school teammates Zach Watkins and Ronald Beauford. Their Dripping Springs, Texas team lost the 1998 state championship game to a team it had beaten during the regular season. 

"We were unstoppable," Beauford said. 

Now they serve in different branches of the military. Beauford is in the Air Force, while Watkins is in the Army. 

Beauford said he is honored to have an opportunity to play on the team. 

"We just want to give everybody a break from just getting prepared for a wartime scenario," he said. 

Watkins, attached to the 4th Battallion 42nd Field Artillery in Fort Hood, Texas, is between tours of duty overseas. He was with the 4th Infantry when he was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for a year beginning in March 2003. 

Now Watkins is preparing to return to Iraq at the end of this year. He is interested to see the changes wrought during his absence. 

"Things were completely different than they're going to be two years later," he said. 

He said the Red, White and Blue Tour is an opportunity to show the American public a different side of the people who serve in the U.S. armed forces. 

"It just kind of makes us... I don't want to say approachable because that's not the right word," Watkins said. 

He didn't find a better word, but he found a way to explain his point: "We do all sorts of things," he said. "We can go and fight our nation's wars if need be, and we can play pretty good baseball." 

He described himself as a "pretty patriotic person." 

"The main point I want to talk about, the U.S., it's a helluva country," he said. "It doesn't get more American than baseball and the military." 

By David Curran



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