The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

July 4, 2014

Afghanistan vet Tarango part of Majors’ fabric

ENID, Okla. — Butch Lingenfelter knew Enid Majors assistant baseball coach Richie Tarango was special as a player seven years ago.

“He was the first guy we ever saw that when he had a hotel room, he made his bed,’’ said Lingenfelter, a long-time coach with the Majors. “That immediately drew attention to him.’’

The discipline Tarango showed then would be seen further when he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve two years later to help pay for his tuition at Northern Oklahoma College Enid and the University of Central Oklahoma. He graduated from Hennessey High School in 2007 where he played baseball.

He was activated for a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan from March 2011 to October 2011.

Now a sergeant, Taranago recently returned from Norway where he said he assisted in “getting the electricity back on’’ with  a utility unit. His specialty was generators.

His experiences strengthened his appreciation of living in America this Fourth of July holiday, which he will spend this weekend at the Glen Winget Invitational in Bartlesville with the Majors.

“I love it, you just can’t explain it,’’ Tarango said. “You missed the little things ... it’s daylight over in Sweden 24/7 ... over here just seeing the stars makes you feel pretty good.’’

And the food.

“A good cheeseberger and fries ought to taste extra special,’’ Tarango said. “I am just going to enjoy the holiday and do whatever (Majors) coach (Chris) Jensen has planned for us.’’

When the national anthem is played over the holiday, it will have extra meaning for Tarango.

“When you’re standing and holding your hand over your heart, it means more to me now that I’ve been in military training,’’ he said. “I try to get people to understand why it means so much to me.’’

Tarango supervised a group of seven-year-olds at the Enid Baseball Camp before leaving for Sweden. Every day he made sure his group knew about the importance of the anthem.

Yet, he’s tolerant of people who don’t share his opinion. While it hurts when Tarango sees someone not being respectful to the flag, he doesn’t scream at them.

“It’s a free country,’’ he said.

Tarango said he might have made the military a career if it wasn’t for his passion for baseball and coaching. He was the Enid middle school coach last season and assisted with the high school teams. He’s been hired as the physical education teacher at Coolidge Elementary School.

“The Marine Corps is a lot like baseball to me,’’ Tarango said. “You make a lot of friends. It’s kind of like a team ... it’s all teamwork. There are a lot of people there I keep in touch with.’’

Except a mistake in war can cost a life as opposed to making an error in a ballgame.

Like many who have served in wartime, he’s reluctant to discuss his experiences.

“None of us, to my knowledge, have gotten him to speak about his tour in Afghanistan other than he was hot in the summer and cold in the winter,’’ said Lingenfelter, whose father fought in World War II in the Philippines. “That’s typical of people who have been in stressful situations.’’

“There were some things I would rather not re-live,’’ Tarango said. “It’s just a lot different ... stuff happens. I’m serious about baseball, but it’s just a game. Out there it’s completely different.’’

Temperatures were as high as 120 to 130 degrees in Afghanistan. On a windy day Tarango said it felt “like a fan blowing hot air in your face.’’

And It was a life full of uncertainties.

“I would be lying if I said anybody who goes down there isn’t going to have some nerves and stuff,’’ he said. “You get used to the convoys after a while, but you still will have nerves ... you never know what’s going to come down there.’’

His love of baseball helped him get through even though he couldn’t follow his beloved Arizona Diamondbacks, who reached the playoffs that season.

“I thought about baseball all the time when I was down there,’’ he said. “I have to remind myself when I get frustrated with certain things that other people have it worse. I remember when I was in Afghanistan and how much better it is here.’’

The experience taught him leadership, although he said “it’s a lot different leading kids.’’

That leadership is seen on the field with the respect Tarango has from both players and coaches.

“When he speaks, you listen,’’ Lingenfelter said. “Our kids understand his depth of knowledge and his experiences in stressful situations that we will never face.’’

Everyone around the Majors considers Tarango a hero — except Tarango.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,’’ he said. “I appreciate people who do, but I’m not a hero I was just doing my job.’’

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