Tuesday, November 21, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on October 13th, 2015, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 16, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 16, Issue 32

Band of Brothers softball team brings Santa Maria veterans together

By DAVID MINSKY

It’s Friday night, most workers are gone for the day, and it’s dark, but the lights at the Hagerman Sports Complex are illuminated. It’s time to play softball. 

Sporting a No. 4 jersey and a San Diego Padres ball cap, Pete Williams cracks a high fly ball into right field. Williams bolts toward first base leaving a small cloud of dust behind him. He rounds, looks, and keeps going. 


PLAY BALL
Local military veterans from the Band of Brothers softball team, which is divided into two teams, played their first game against each other on Sept. 18.
PHOTO BY DAVID MINSKY

It’s a triple hit. The outfielder is just beginning to heave the ball toward the second baseman. Williams heads to third where he stops. 

Williams, who is from Miami and an active duty member of the military serving with the security at Vandenberg Air Force Base, is cheered on by members of both teams—all of which are either veterans or fellow active duty military. It was the Band of Brothers inaugural game, which they played on Sept. 18. 

The Band of Brothers teams, Honor and Courage, play in the intramural Rodenberger Division, which encompasses teams such as The Benchwarmers and The Wrecking Crew. Steve Baird, a local Marine Corps veteran, is one of the guys who organized the team. 

You may know Baird from elsewhere. Back in May, the Sun profiled Baird and his involvement in Santa Maria’s Veterans Court. Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rogelio Flores considers him a leader for his mentorship and advocacy for struggling veterans.

The court gives second chances to veterans who’ve had minor, albeit potentially, life-altering run-ins with the law. Baird credits Flores for giving him a second chance. But man cannot live on bread alone, therefore Baird formed a softball team.

Baird played on a Marine Corps team whose season recently ended. This time, he wanted an all veterans team. Inspiration came from Brian Williamson, a Navy veteran from an opposing team who wanted to fly the Navy flag alongside the Marine Corps flag during the game. Baird recalled the moment.

“As I was running towards the outfield, I saw the Navy flag next to the Marine Corps flag,” Baird said, “and it was just surreal.”

He already had the talent from the Marine Corps team. He and Williamson reached out to other veterans he knew from other branches. The roster grew to about 20, enough for a team. 

Making it all come together seems like an impossibly amazing feat—and it is—but to Baird’s surprise, he discovered he had more support than he thought. 

A $500 fee is required to enter a league. Baird went to the city and Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department Director Alex Posada waived the fee.
However, there was a problem. The team had more players than the 20-player limit, so he formed another team. Posada even waived the fee for the second team. Baird reached out to his cousin, Rex Wilson, an airman with the security forces at VAFB, for more players, and soon Band of Brothers had two teams: Honor and Courage.

In total, Baird was able to pull nine sponsors—including Santa Maria Motorcycles, the Teamsters Local 986, and a couple of local attorneys—to help pay for the black and white jerseys, which are emblazoned with individual players’ names and the logos of all branches of the military. 

The team has vets from all ages and all walks of life. The oldest player on the team is 72 years old. The youngest, 18 years old, is Baird’s cousin, who hasn’t served yet, but will soon. He’s slated to enter Air Force boot camp in January. 

And it’s not a therapy session for washed up vets suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, but just a bunch of guys (women aren’t excluded!) from the community who’ve been touched by world strife in one form or another and want to get together on a Friday night and play ball. And they play remarkably well for a bunch of amateur athletes. 

The team recaptures much of the camaraderie that was lost after leaving the service. As a veteran myself, it’s a feeling that I can say many veterans crave. The atmosphere at the game is much more toned down (an understatement) than the harsh, playful, and often insulting ribs all service members give each other on a daily basis. There’s definitely no cussing. After all, it’s a family environment. 

Yet the team is extraordinary because it unites veterans and active duty service members. There’s no difference, because you’re a veteran even while you serve. An honor guard from VAFB presided over the Band of Brothers inaugural game. 

Three games into the season and the team is 1-2. The team fell short in the last game, but it was a close one. The league plays games into December. 

Baird’s trying to get veterans in other cities to catch on. There’s talk of getting a team formed in Paso Robles. According to Baird, Marine Corps veteran Angel Quintana is trying to form a team in Lompoc. 

Rick Wilson played with Baird on the Marine Corps team. Wilson himself is a veteran, having served in the 1980s. He also officiates Cal Poly games for the NCAA. His takeway from the Marine Corps team is that softball goes a long way toward healing the soul. 

“What I really learned from the Marine Corps softball league is that a lot of guys are struggling,” Wilson said, explaining that not all veterans need to experience combat to feel some disconnection with the world upon leaving the service. “Do you have to take a bullet to be a veteran? No! You just have to do your job. There’s a band of brothers in all military.”

Staff Writer David Minsky can be reached at dminsky@santamariasun.com.




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