Las Vegas Blues bring ‘America’s Pastime’ to Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jake Carter
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
When growing up, baseball or softball is a sport many parents push their children into. As time goes on, some move on to another sport, but some children keep playing all the way through high school or even college.

At Nellis Air Force Base, Airmen who gave up the sport they loved to serve their country and newcomers who want to try their hand at the sport now have a chance to tie up their cleats and hit the field with the Nellis baseball team, the Las Vegas Blues.

"I am very shocked at how many people are unaware that they can still play baseball in a league as an adult. A lot of people I run into think their only chance of playing on a field is by participating in softball," said Jason O'Neal, Blues head coach and staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron aviation resource management department. "I also find that we have a lot of people on base that have played at high levels of baseball to include division one ball."

The Blues were started in early 2014 with only one Airman on the team.

"I started the team back in February 2014," O'Neal said. "The team was not originally a military team. It began as a regular adult team lead by me, with the intention of becoming an all-military team the following season. I wanted to get a feel for coaching a team in one of the local leagues before I started an official base team."

O'Neal said as the season went on his intentions became reality when more Airmen began to fill the team's roster.

"In the first season, I was the only military member out of the original nine," O'Neal said. "I started to need additional players as the season went on, so I decided to open spots up to Nellis and Creech AFB players. (Now) we have one civilian on a roster of 13 players. The rest (of the team are)  military members."

As the team moved on from its first season with new players, things began to change.

"For the team's first season, we competed in the Las Vegas Men's Senior Baseball League. After a rough first season where we only won three games, we made it to the championship game the following season," O'Neal said. "We decided we wanted to be a part of a league that was run more efficiently than the MSBL. The Blues joined the Las Vegas chapter of the National Adult Baseball Association this past February."

By switching over to the NABA, O'Neal said the Blues were ready to face a higher level of competition.

"The track record of the NABA is well known, and we felt we would be able to face better competition. The overall league is made up of 12 teams spread out into two divisions, the Paramint and Tonopah division, each with six teams," O'Neal said. "The Blues are members of the Tonapah Division. Each team plays a regular season schedule of 11 games and the playoffs are single-elimination style until a champion is crowned."

In addition to the adult league, the Blues play other bases around the southwest United States.

"The only base we have scheduled this summer is Davis-Monthan AFB.  I was unaware of any other base teams in the region until a couple of days ago when I was introduced to the coach of the Luke AFB team," O'Neal said. "In the future, I will schedule multiple games with Luke and Davis-Monthan AFB, making those teams regular opponents on our yearly schedule."

When the season commences, the Blues are subject to player loss, as multiple factors like permanent change of stations, deployments or temporary duty assignments affect the roster.

"The biggest obstacle with players is the Air Force work schedule. During the season deployments and temporary deployments can take a toll on the roster," O'Neal said. You may start with 12 guys, but by season's end you may only have half of those guys left. But out of the people we have had, I enjoy seeing the spirit of competition the guys have and their pursuit to improve themselves."

O'Neal's position with the Thunderbirds takes him all around the country during their show-season. When he's out of town, the Blues' assistant coaches step in and take the reins.

"As the assistant coaches, Dustin Waldrop and I handle all the team responsibilities, to include filling in the roster and batting order, making pitching changes when necessary, handling the equipment, and keeping track of team and individual stats," said Donald Irwin, Blues assistant coach and senior airman in the 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Raptor Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

While playing baseball, Irwin knows even though winning is enjoyable, having fun is the top priority.

"Our team is a competitive group of individuals. We enjoy winning just as much as anyone else, but we do not get discouraged or defeated by losing," Irwin said. "The main goal is to have fun and enjoy our Sunday mornings (or) afternoons."

Airmen interested in joining the Blues can check out the team's website -- www. heroesinblue.com.

(Editor's note: The mention of the Las Vegas Men's Senior Baseball League and National Adult Baseball Association does not constitute endorsement or affiliation by Nellis Air Force Base or the U.S. Air Force.)