As I was walking to Roger Dean Stadium to watch the University of Miami Hurricanes take on the Miami Marlins, I was thinking that I needed to get the cheapest ticket, I had already parked 3 blocks away from the field to avoid paying for parking. As I was crossing the street to the stadium a car pulled up and asked if I needed a ticket, he said he had an extra one and I could have it, I laughed to myself thinking at all the things I worry about and continue to worry about, like how I have to be extremely frugal with money to make sure I stretch it out as long as possible. Not only did I get a free ticket but I also found my story for the day, again I fretted for no reason!
Major Eric Walters, 51, was at the game with his son Sean, 13, who was skipping his 8th grade classes to be out in the sun watching baseball with his dad. Eric a 24 year Army veteran, who served in a lot of the most recent wars and conflicts, was out of the Army but reenlisted after 9-11 and has been in ever since. Over those 24 years as a Commissioned Officer he was responsible for training soldiers, as an Infantry Platoon Leader, Battalion Operations Training Officer and Company Commander, currently he is stationed at the United States Southern Command in Doral, Florida as a US Army Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer and is soon to retire from the military which he loves but is quick to state that he is ready to move on to the next phase in his life. Thank you for your service Eric!
Sean and his dad compliment each other very well, you can tell right away that they have a tight bond. Sean is quite the baseball player, he is a “submarine” pitcher, (a submarine pitch is one in which the ball is released underhand, and often just above the ground, with the torso bent at a right angle and shoulders tilted so severely that they rotate around a nearly horizontal axis) which makes him very hard to hit, he has played on teams with much older players and once was asked to pitched for an 18U (18 years and under) team. Sean will be going to Cypress Bay High School next year, a school that has a very good baseball program, when Eric transferred back to South Florida in 2010 from Oregon, he made sure to move to an area where the schools were very good academically first and then had a good baseball program. He knew that he had something special with Sean at a young age. To say that these 2 “like” baseball is an understatement, it is a family passion, it is love, as Eric and I were talking he would rattle off things about so many kids or teams that he saw or helped along in the process of getting better at the game, I couldn’t keep up, I had to interrupt him many times to get all the information down.
In 2010 when Eric came back to the area, they were too late to get Sean signed up to play on any of the select teams, that didn’t stop Eric, he started his own select team with a bunch of kids that were also late. He said that they weren’t very good in the beginning of the year and lost 75% of their games, but he kept telling the players and parents to hang in there, their goal will be to beat the #1 team at the end of the season and they did it behind Sean’s pitching. I have this fascination with the parents and coaches of these elite teams and I had to ask Eric what it is like coaching one of these teams, he said it does have its challenges and as a coach he says he really needs to check himself, unfortunately that means that he probably sits Sean out more innings than other players, as to not show favoritism, Sean says he is okay with that since he does get to play a lot of baseball any way. Like the other parents and coaches I have profiled he says that the time commitment is huge and that the cost does get a little out of control, he tries to keep his teams cost under control by playing mostly local tournaments.
Eric only played baseball until he was 15 or 16, he thought that being a beach bum or a “surfer dude” was his life long calling at the time, which didn’t work out for him, he wishes that he had focused on baseball, but back in those days there wasn’t the elite level of play. He did play against Jack Nicklaus’s kids in the North Palm Beach Little League in the early to mid 70’s, he recalls that they had to postpone the championship game in either 1973 or 1974 because Jack was in a playoff with Tom Weiskopf at a PGA event, Jack’s sons, Jack was pitching and Steve was catching against Eric’s team, Jack was a big contributor and supporter of the league and everyone agreed that they would wait until Jack could get there to watch, Eric’s team won…
Sean has played in tournaments around the country and while playing in Cooperstown, NY he was noticed for his unique pitching style, a team from Hawaii participating in the tournament labeled him Satchel Paige (Paige was among the most famous and successful players from the Negro Leagues, his outstanding control as a pitcher got him noticed by MLB) out of respect on how well Sean threw the ball, and how well he mixed in what is considered normal. Sean made sure to tell me, the they were Nuts, the Hawaiian Nuts, their actually team name, he said with a big smile. He also got a surprise call from Joe Girardi, the manager of the New York Yankees and his favorite team at the end of the game to congratulate him on how well he pitched.
I enjoyed the game I watched with Sean and Eric, I have a lot more information that I will be adding to this blog post sometime this weekend, but my self imposed deadline is upon me and I need to post this, please check back!
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More about Satchel Paige: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satchel_Paige