By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Vance Air Force Base is in the business of flying, annually producing more than 300 new military pilots.
But for some members of what is known as Team Vance, their off hours are spent dealing with a different type of flying — sending softballs flying into the distance or flying around the dusty base paths of a local diamond.
The Vance Varsity softball team recently won the men’s Amateur Softball Association state slow-pitch qualifier at Enid’s Kellet Park, which qualified them for the state Class B tournament to be held this weekend at the same local complex. Vance’s first game is 11 a.m. Saturday.
Vance’s varsity squad is made up of military and civilian personnel from the base. The team has posted a 29-15 record, which has included appearances in both ASA and United States Specialty Sports Association tournaments.
This weekend’s state tournament will serve as a tune-up for the Military World Softball Tournament coming up Aug. 15-18 in Panama City Beach, Fla. Vance tied for fifth in last year’s rain-shortened event.
When Capt. John Stock, the team’s player-coach, was transferred to Vance from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., in early 2011, his goal was to put together a team that would contend for the Military World Softball Tourn-ament title.
He thinks that dream could come to fruition this year.
“If we can win Military Worlds, that’s going to be quite an accomplishment,” he said. “I really feel that we have a team, if we play the way that we are capable of playing at the plate and in the field, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
After their first successful fall campaign, Vance was 35-11 last year, winning a world qualifier tournament in Oklahoma City that earned them a trip to the USSSA Class D World Tournament in Orlando, Fla., which they did not attend since it fell just after the Military World Softball Tournament.
The team tries to play as many games as it can in both the ASA and USSSA, which operate under slightly different rules.
“With the tournaments, we try to do the USSSA because that’s the classification we play at Military Worlds,” said Stock.
Vance’s team members have a variety of jobs around the base. Two are civilian contractors, one is a civilian simulator instructor and one is in the Air Force Reserve, but the rest are active duty. The contractors, brothers Ty and Hunter Stroble, will in fact be playing for an opposing team this weekend, Mid-America Wholesale.
Stock is currently chief of standardization and evaluation for the 3rd Flying Training Squadron. Some of the players are student pilots. Trying to fit games and practices into the players’ busy and ever-changing work schedules has been a challenge, said Stock.
“It is tough,” he said. “We have 20 guys and I don’t think we’ve ever had more than 15 people at either league games or at a tournament on the weekend.”
And not everybody on the squad will play at Military Worlds, he said.
“When we go down to Worlds, we’re going to play our top guys,” said Stock. “But it wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have everybody contributing throughout the season. It’s a total team effort.”
In contrast with many military teams, Vance’s squad is made up primarily of officers. That is reflective of the base population, Stock said.
“We are predominately officers on this base with all the pilot training going on,” he said. “The reason why a lot of the players for the other teams are enlisted is because the enlisted force, they don’t move around and PCS (permanent change of station) every three years like the officers. They can stick around for a while and it’s very rare that they move on.”
That fluidity is one reason Vance has 10 new players on this year’s roster, said Stock.
Unlike many slow-pitch softball teams, the Vance Varsity squad doesn’t rely heavily on home runs, despite averaging more than 15 runs per game. In 44 games this season, Vance hits less than two home runs per game.
“We’re not a team that goes out there and hits home runs,” said Powers. “There are teams out there that have the big boppers that can hit home runs consistently, but we pride ourselves on hustle and hitting the ball hard, on a line and on the ground and making them field it and make a play. Then we pride ourselves on playing good defense. We preach defense and hustle. If we do that, we can win some ballgames.”
Stock said this weekend’s state tournament will be a good test for Vance as it points to the Military Worlds in two weeks.
“There’s going to be some really good teams that are going to be of very good caliber, like what we’re going to see at Military Worlds,” Stock said. “Two weeks prior to Military Worlds, this couldn’t be a better tune-up for us.”