City softball leagues pay tribute to local veterans
The Cape Coral 45+ and 50+ softball leagues paid homage to our country’s military last week at the Cape Coral Sports Complex in prelude to Veterans Day.
Before Thursday’s games, players in both leagues — many of whom are veterans — lined up on both foul lines while the Ida Baker JROTC color guard presented the flag while the national anthem played.
In special appreciation to the veterans, foul lines on all of the softball fields at Cape Coral Sports Complex were painted red, white and blue. One of the pitching circles was also surrounded by red, white and blue stars.
“I am honored to be here with my fellow players and veterans,” said Salvatore Romano, U.S. Army and Korean War veteran. “I love playing in this league.”
Romano, a Cape Coral resident and spry 80-year-old, plays four games a week between Cape Coral and Fort Myers.
“It’s great camaraderie,” he said of the league. “You meet all different kinds of people. I enjoy it.”
Romano marched in Monday’s Veterans Day Parade and is a member of the American Legion Post #90 in Cape Coral.
He said he’s proud to be a veteran, and to be able to see how the softball league honored its own players who served is a welcomed sight.
Marine and Vietnam veteran Bob Taylor was wounded three times during his time in the service, but still comes out to enjoy softball each week with his comrades. He’s been involved with Cape Coral softball for 10 years.
“These guys are great,” Taylor said. “I can’t play now due to some health issues, but I mean they’ll call you at home, they’ll come to your house if you don’t answer the phone — every time you come here it’s smiles and a handshake and they ask about your well being. They’re really good people.”
So, what does Veterans Day mean to Taylor?
“It’s a salute to all my brothers and sisters,” he said. “I mean, there’s getting to be less and less of us. But, the day is fun, I put my wreaths out at the house and a neighbor of mine who is a veteran also, we’ll be going to the parade and different places.”
Taylor loved how the fields were done up in a patriotic manner.
“I told them, ‘Don’t mess up the lines,'” Taylor said with a chuckle.
After the national anthem and the color guard left the field, all veterans from the 45+ and 50+ league gathered around the pitching circle as the remaining players applauded them for their service.
“It makes you feel appreciated,” said Phyllis Tompkins, active duty member of the Air Force Reserve as a flight medic. “It is definitely a sacrifice. But, I wouldn’t say it’s just my sacrifice, it’s your families and your neighbors.”
Tompkins, going on 30 years of service, said she’s been deployed about 10 times to places such as Germany, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and other places.
“I love the job that I do,” Tompkins said. “I take care of wounded warriors. It’s a very satisfying career, and it feels good when you come and they appreciate you.
“Veterans Day is a time to stop and say, ‘Hey look, we appreciate what you’ve done,’ and it’s acknowledging what people before you have done. I mean, freedom isn’t free, that’s what they always say.”
Tompkins has been a member of the softball league for three years, and her husband, who is a veteran, also plays.
“I enjoy playing here,” she said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie here. Everybody knows everybody. You really get to know people and it’s just a friendly atmosphere.”
Robert Guillery joined the Army right out of high school and served from 1990-1998, then served four years in the reserves.
He’s been a member of the softball league for two years and is now an Iona-McGregor firefighter.
“It’s nice,” he said of the special day for veterans at the complex. “Everybody in Cape Coral and Lee County, they always do good things for the veterans. It’s always nice to come out and see the guys that have done a lot more and made more sacrifices that are older. You get to talk to some of them, but it’s just nice to see everybody have something nice done for them. It’s the older generation, the new generation and the future generation.”
Guillery sees Veterans Day as a time to reflect on those who have endured tumultuous wars and those brothers and sisters he calls family from their bond created during service time.
“I celebrate it for everybody else,” he said. “I don’t look at it as mine. There are people that made way more of a sacrifice than I did. I remember the brothers and sisters we’ve lost. I’ve had some guys in training accidents that I know that have passed on — remember those guys — even if you’re only training, they’re your family.
“It’s the one day that you can sit there and everybody congratulates everybody and just respects everybody,” he continued. “You see the guys that have made the ultimate sacrifice, that have been through some nasty wars. You get to hear some of their stories and visit with them, it’s pretty cool.”
Guillery said playing softball even reminds him of the military in the sense that it’s one big family that “razzes” each other and creates a brotherhood/sisterhood of sorts.
John Buehler agrees with Guillery that the league reminds him on the military via that “bond” made between teammates.
Buehler joined the military shortly after high school, and spent 22 years with Navy until completing his service in 2013.
“It was kind of like leaving one group — leaving the military behind and finding another group to fit into,” he said of joining the league after moving to Cape Coral. “It’s nice to have a common interest with a bunch of people. It’s a great league, it’s about fun, you make good friendships — that’s what it’s about.
“The honor to veterans is really just icing on the cake — that we have somebody in the league that cares enough to say, ‘Let’s acknowledge our veterans.'”
Buehler said it’s always a welcomed surprise to find out that fellow teammates have also served in one way or another.
“It’s always interesting when you find out, ‘Oh, you did service time also.’ Then you get a whole nother commonality with someone. You can draw maybe closer friendships or maybe be able to relate to someone a little better.”
The veteran-rich culture of Southwest Florida somewhat brings a sense of home to Buehler, he said.
“There’s a lot of nice things about the area, and one of them is that it’s very rich in heritage with military, police, fire — it seems like a lot of the working class, middle class American has come down here to retire, and it makes a real nice community.”
Buehler said Veterans Day is always a time to look back.
“To me, Veterans Day is a great day of remembrance, especially for those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their life,” he said. “Monday is just one of those days that, although there’s a little bit of somber in the air, it’s still a great day.”
Tim Price, a Vietnam veteran of the Navy in his own right, said he enjoys the connection he makes with fellow veterans in the league and enjoyed the tribute at the field on Thursday.
Price has been involved with the league for over 20 years.
“It’s great,” he said of the field being done up in a patriotic theme. “The guys are great and there’s no reason to not come out and play each week.”
In a league, and city, with a prominent veteran presence, a tribute to those who served our country was welcomed openly by all players and organizers of the league.
For more information on the leagues, visit www.capecoral.net, find parks and rec, click “athletic division” then “adult sports.”
Contact Jorge Diaz at 239-443-9605 for information on the 45+ league.
Contact Jennifer Ford at 239-292-2923 for information on the 50+ league.
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj