TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The United States Military All-Star Baseball Team held tryouts Saturday at Twentynine Palms High School for more than 30 prospective applicants from all service branches.
The San Diego based, semi-professional level team visited the High Desert to allow service members from throughout Southern California the opportunity to try out for the highly competitive team openings.
Those selected go on to join the team for a year in a temporary additional duty status to compete against various teams around the country and abroad including Louisiana State University, University of Florida, Florida State University, Auburn University, Alabama State University and Mississippi State University.
The team, which began in 1990, is one of the fastest growing, largest, and most successful joint military baseball programs since the Vietnam War era. Organizers put forth an effort through 11 teams worldwide to assemble the very best talent in the military, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Terry R. Allvord, team head coach and founder.
“Everyone was invited to this tryout,” said Allvord. “All services, active duty or reservists — it’s completely open tryouts, and we’ve been hosting them all over the world. What we’re trying to do is go to as many locations as possible, especially where we know we have former players from the team. But every year the level of competition goes up and it’s harder and harder for them to make it.
“We have a few Marines here who played for us before and a couple of All-Marine Team guys, so we were looking at them closely today,” continued Allvord.
The 37 service members trying out were from all branches of the military, including six Combat Center Marines.
One such Marine was Pfc. Drew Chism, who tried out as a pitcher. An avid baseball player and fan since childhood, he said he had always dreamed of becoming a professional player.
“I’ve played baseball my whole life, and this looked like a very competitive team, so I thought it would give me a chance to pursue a career I’ve always dreamed about,” said Chism, an information technology clerk with the Center Personnel office.
“They are a semi-pro team and from my perspective, a step above collegiate baseball,” said the 20-year-old Versailles, Ky., native. “It was the shortest tryout I’ve ever been to. They are very competitive and they know what they want and are very serious about the sport.”
One Combat Center Marine with 1st Tank Battalion was already selected as a pitcher at a previous tryout at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, but Chism said he remained focused.
“These coaches are tough and know what they’re talking about,” said Cpl. Tyler Maxon of Tanks. “I got picked down in Coronado a few weeks ago, but it was hard. I played on the All-Marine Team two years ago but went to Iraq last summer, so I didn’t get to play. I came back and heard about this team, and it’s been great to see all the services working together.”
As the tryouts went on, the crowds of potentials dwindled steadily away. Chism took the pitcher’s mound to show the coaches what he had to offer.
He remained there for nearly 25 pitches, more than any other hopeful; throwing out curves, sliders, fastballs and changeups under the close scrutiny of Allvord and his staff.
“I know I went out there and gave it my best,” said Chism as he left the mound to allow others their shot. “I was very pleased with my performance, so I’ll just have to wait to hear from them now.”
As more pitchers burned up home plate, other Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines were busy manning bases and in the outfield to show Allvord what they were made of.
“I think the reputation of the team is a lot better now and everyone understands that it’s a lot better baseball,” said Allvord. “We used to have 1,000 or 1,500 guys come out for tryouts, from amateur up. We’ve eliminated a lot of that now – they know we’re serious. We’re looking for college-level experience or above.
“The Marine team at Camp Pendleton is also looking for players, so if they don’t make it with us, maybe they can head that way,” he said. “We’re all about helping someone get on another team if they’re ready.”
When the final pitcher had finished, Allvord gathered them up to give the news: none of them had made the cut.
The players who came out to pitch today just weren’t at the skill level the team was looking for, he said.
“The only one here who came close today was this guy,” Allvord said to the group as he motioned toward Chism. “He was the only one who was consistent all the way.”
Although let down not to be selected, Chism said his experience was one he will build upon and keep his spirits up.
“It hurt a little bit when they said I didn’t make it, but I knew going out there that it would be tough,” said Chism. “The coach said that I had a good arm, and that made me feel better. I’m only 20 years old and still have three more years to try out.
“If nothing else, it was good competition and really good experience from what they’ve told me, and it’s worth it even to just go try out and put your name out there,” Chism continued.
Although no players were selected for the team for any position that day, it is not an uncommon trend with a small group, said Allvord.
“If they see us play on TV on ESPN, they’ll know why we are so hard on them,” Allvord continued.
The team’s next and final tryouts will be held April 2 in Great Lakes, Ill., and the season will begin May 1.