Camaraderie proved easier to come by than wins for the three American teams representing Germany in the Europe-Middle East-Africa softball regionals held in the KMC July 12 to 16.
Little league softball teams from Stuttgart and the KMC competed in the Junior Division, while the KMC also carried the German and American flags in the Senior Division.
The tournaments, and the corresponding chance to compete in the August World Series in the U.S., were ultimately won by Juniors from Italy and the Seniors the Netherlands. The local German-American representatives appreciated the chance to compete, come together as teammates and learn from the experience.
Stuttgart Coach Joe Puckett said his team didn’t come to Ramstein to rack up wins, but to leave as better players. Though the team didn’t manage
a win in the tourney, they persevered in playing the game correctly. Although his players were the best selections from teams in the local league, they didn’t have experience with post-season competition.
“We realistically didn’t expect to win against these teams. Most of our girls were players from the (recreational) league in Stuttgart and hadn’t played at this level before,” Puckett said. “Our objective in coming here was to be a better team than we were before the tournament, to be better softball players than we were before we started, not to quit and to play hard all the way through.”
After going 0-3 through the first two days of competition, Puckett and his team were hoping to prove themselves against rivals KMC July 14. They achieved their most narrow margin of defeat and highest run tally, losing 17-10. Though the loss meant their exit from the tournament, Puckett said Stuttgart finished strong, attaining their goal.
“It would have been nice to beat KMC today, but I have no regrets in bringing this team here. I believe they learned a lot and how far they have to go because there are just some amazing softball players here,” Puckett said.
His daughter and second baseman Cosette Puckett said that while learning to never give up, she also learned to appreciate the team’s opportunity to come together.
Players had only three weeks as a team after all-star selections were made following the local season in Stuttgart.
“I really liked bonding with my teammates. I’ve made a lot of friends, met a lot of new people-people I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Cosette said.
Their KMC rivals in the Junior Division had more auspicious goals, having several players with World Series experience from younger levels. Coach Pedro Martinez’s team was hoping for their first return to the series since their last appearance in 2006. Still, they knew the competition was stiff.
After dropping their first two matches of the tournament, they needed a win against Stuttgart to advance to the knock-out round. Though they beat their rivals to finish 1-3, they lost to Poland 11-1 in semi-final competition July 15, joining Stuttgart in the bleachers.
KMC first baseman and pitcher Liz Pendergrass praised the competition as being “the best I have ever played against,” and invoking the loftiest of little league ideals in describing her team’s experience.
“I think we are the team that had the most fun,” she said.
Martinez cited the continual challenge the military-based teams face in the constant rebuilding mandated by the frequency of player arrivals and departures. Though the teams from Holland, Italy and Poland have the advantage of continuity, the KMC teams have a chance to get to the World Series every year, he said.
“In the states, we’d have to get through so many levels to even get a glimpse of a chance to go to the World Series. Here, we have to play our best for one tournament. So I can’t complain about our scenario,” Martinez said.
The KMC Seniors have been taking advantage of that opportunity in recent years, looking to make 2011 their fourth consecutive trip to the series.
They went 1-1 in the first round, defeating the Netherlands 14-0, but losing to Italy 10-2. They lost the semi-final match, and their hopes of progressing, to their Dutch opponents 13-5.
KMC Senior first baseman and pitcher Kelsey Freeman said the difficulty of the tournament is what makes it worth playing.
“The competition is really good ― that’s why I like this tournament,” Freeman said. “You are playing teams that give you something to work for. You have to fight to win because they are going to come out and fight for it.”
KMC Seniors assistant coach Manuel Bonano said the team didn’t play up to their high defensive standards, with the lapse coming at the wrong time.
“This year, it wasn’t meant to be. Of course they are disappointed, but in the end, they are going to be OK,” Bonano said, adding that the off season training program and a new group of Juniors becoming eligible will ensure continued success. “We expect to have a competitive team every year.”
As tournament organizers began picking up the bases, the winners’ cries of joy faded, along with the steady cadences of encouragement from the dugouts.
As teams packed up after 18 games in five days, they took away much more than wins and losses.