News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local Interest

April 17, 2012

Military, baseball mix for Valley Air Force veteran

TERRE HAUTE — The Terre Haute Men’s Senior Baseball League, founded in 1991 and playing its games at Haley Field near the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds since then, includes the community’s doctors, lawyers, policemen, construction workers and college students to name a few.

One ballplayer who has made a living with the U.S. Air Force has even had the chance to get paid for playing baseball during stints with the U.S. Armed Forces All-Stars.

Brian Chesshir, who is preparing to manage the Red Sox team of the THMSBL’s 19-and-over division for the second straight year, had to miss the 2010 season because he was deployed for eight months in Saudi Arabia.

But the military has also afforded him the opportunity to play on a team that traveled in Central and South America to play against top-tier Latin teams.

“It’s the best from each branch. You go down and play some stiff competition,” said Chesshir, a 30-year-old catcher who starred at West Vigo during his high school days.

Chesshir got involved with the military team about eight years ago.

“A guy in California wanted me to go to a Pro Prospect League,” Chesshir said. “I couldn’t get approved to leave and go down there but they suggested the U.S. Armed Forces All-Stars. I flew to Norfolk, Va., tried out there and made it out of 150 guys. From there, I went to Jacksonville, Fla., and made the final cut of 25 there.”

Chesshir and his teammates played in large stadiums owned by the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres, sites used by the big-league teams to find and train prospects.

“We played in Chile, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, played all their professional teams,” Chesshir said. “I go on what’s called a Permissive TDY. I’m still attached to military orders.”

While Chesshir gets paid on the baseball trips, he and his teammates are not there to simply play ball.

“We do a lot more than just play baseball. We do public outreach, we go to veteran’s hospitals, we go to children’s hospitals and we put on kids’ [baseball] clinics all across the country when we travel,” Chesshir said. “It’s always fun to light up kids’ eyes. The veterans love telling us their history in the military. It’s a good feeling to go to the hospitals.”

• The THMSBL includes men as young as 19 and as old as their 70s. The 38-and-over age division has six teams slated to begin play at the beginning of May.

Interested players can still find a team or start their own team, but the deadline to register is April 20.

Chesshir’s Red Sox team has won multiple league titles, but the Cubs team managed by league president Dr. Darren Brucken has claimed three consecutive crowns — and five since 2002 — in the 19-and-over division. Chesshir has teamed with his own brothers and brother duo of Jared and Jason Clark of Marshall, Ill., to have consistent success.

Brucken’s team includes 39-year-old Chad O’Neal, who is among several who play in both age divisions. The Athletics, managed by Tim Bloodworth of Marshall, Ill., have won many league titles in the 38-and-over division.

O’Neal is a former Riverton Parke standout who played in college at Marian in Indianapolis. At 39 and playing catcher, O’Neal admits the game can force you to take a beating.

“My wife keeps asking me why I keep doing it if it’s so hard on my body. It’s just the joy of it. A lot of it is the camaraderie more than anything. If I didn’t enjoy the guys I played with or even the guys from other teams. It’s really more about being down here with the guys and getting away from the work week,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal began playing in about 1998, he said, adding that a lot of great players suited up for at least a few games. West Vigo grad and former New York Yankees prospect Casey DeGroote hit some towering shots into the corn field beyond the fences.

“It’s gotten better. It’s gotten more competitive. College guys coming in and playing from Lincoln Trail, Olney and ISU,” O’Neal said. “Josh Phegley played a few games with us a few years ago. We’ve had some pretty talented guys come through this league.”

Many balance coaching their own children with continuing to play themselves.

Pitching in the league has even helped other players find their way to a college scholarship.

Terre Haute North graduate Scott Lawson played with the Cubs one summer after junior college ball and a recruiter from the University of Georgia took the time to watch him play at the small ballpark.

“I actually caught him in the game they were scouting him. The guy from Georgia was coming through town. He got the gun out and the next year [Lawson] was playing for them,” O’Neal said.

While some talented pitchers have taken the mound, it’s a hitter’s league, O’Neal said.

“In all the years I’ve played down here, I’ve never seen a no-hitter. Never heard of one,” O’Neal said. “You’re not going to come down here and blow a fastball by everyone.”

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    March 12, 2010