Franke: Combining Baseball and the Army
There are a lot of benefits of retirement, likely many more than I realize or appreciate, but one is enough free time to follow my local minor league baseball team. The Fort Wayne TinCaps are High A this year with a roster of players who hope to be only one or two steps away from the majors.
Fort Wayne has produced a lot of major leaguers over the 28 years of the franchise. The most successful in monetary terms is Fernando Tatis Jr., a current wage slave of the San Diego Padres to the tune of $340 million.
Fort Wayne has always been a baseball town. The Fort Wayne Kekiongas played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the first professional league prior to the formation of the National Baseball League. (Yes, that National League.) Unfortunately the Kekiongas went broke in 1871 but only after making the record books for winning the first game ever played under the auspices of a professional baseball league.
Even with no more Kekiongas, the city wasn’t done with making baseball history. The first professional night game was played under lights in Fort Wayne in 1883 according to local lore even if not uncontested among baseball historians.
So much for reminiscing about a time before I was born. Coming back to this year of grace, my lifetime love of baseball has been stoked to a white-hot heat now that I can afford both the money and the time to hold season tickets. When still gainfully employed, I would attend TinCaps games (or Wizards as they were absurdly named when they first came to Fort Wayne) as often as time allowed. It wasn’t nearly often enough and I was jealous of my retired friend who had season tickets. Several years ago my wife asked me what I wanted to do for Fathers’ Day and I replied with one word: TinCaps. That day I resolved to buy season tickets so I could go to all the games
I wanted seats near my retiree friend so I ended up next to the visitor’s dugout at field level. There are better views of the field but I won’t move. I have made new friends of the other season ticket holders as well as the ushers assigned to our section so going to the game is a fundamental part of my pathetic social life.
The best thing about my seats is that I am right at the on-deck circle for the visiting team. This gives me the opportunity to talk to the batters as they come out of the dugout. I don’t heckle; 30 years as a volunteer assistant coach in Division I men’s volleyball left me with no tolerance or respect for hecklers. Instead I compliment them on great defensive plays, previous home runs or other impressive athletic feats. Most respond, if only with a thank you, and those who don’t are likely too intense on preparing for their next at bat.
Last week the Dayton team was in town and their right fielder put on an offensive and defensive show. He made two spectacular diving catches the first night, got a couple of hits and ran the bases with abandon. Checking his biographical information, I learned that he is a Hoosier from Zionsville and a graduate of West Point. West Point? My neighbor, a retired Army colonel, was with me that night and he didn’t think the Army allowed newly commissioned officers to take a sabbatical to play professional sports before serving their military obligation.
Thank you, Internet, as we discovered that this young man is the first West Point graduate to be granted leave to play professional baseball before assuming his army career. The next night I brashlycalled out to him as he passed toward his dugout before the game and he immediately came over. We talked for about five minutes about his army career in the air defense artillery and the expectations the army has for him.
Jacob Hurtubise understands his responsibilities to represent the Dayton Dragons and Cincinnati Reds while still representing the United States Army. Although officially commissioned as a second lieutenant, his teammates have begun calling him “Colonel.” No wonder. In an interview with MLB.com, he said, “If my jersey’s not dirty, I did something wrong.” After the first game of the series, his jersey was reasonably clean but his pants were shredded at the back pocket and on the side from his slides. He did nothing wrong which this grizzled old fan noticed. And his teammates should promote him all the way to field marshal.
Eventually the army will get Lt. Hurtubise back but, based on what I saw last week, it won’t be anytime soon.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.