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Sun City West men bringing softball to Albania

SUN CITY, Ariz. -- Sun City West resident Craig Hone may be retired, but his military experience has led to independent contract work on behalf of the United States that necessitates him traveling around the world.

In December 2011, Hone left for Albania to assist with a military simulation. As an avid softball player, and knowing he would be away from home for more than a year, he decided to bring some of his gear along.

``A bat, two gloves and two balls,'' he said. ``Really, my only intention was to keep my arm in shape.''

Hone set aside some of his downtime for softball and some of the locals soon grew curious.

``Several of them asked, `What do you have there?' They were very interested,'' he said. ``We have about 24 people on the team and none of them had so much as played a game of catch.''

Sensing an opportunity, Hone sent an email to fellow Sun City West softball player Bob Dobbins and explained the situation.

``My boss there said he would support us playing softball, so I told Bob we need some gloves,'' he said. ``We ended up with 24 mitts and a dozen softballs.''

Dobbins said he was overwhelmed at the local softball community's response.

``All I did was send out one email,'' he said. ``Everyone just thought it was a no-brainer to help out. I mean, think about it: every softball player has a couple of extra gloves in the garage. In fact, I had to turn a few people down just because we ran out of time and had to ship the equipment out. There are guys now who want to donate bats.''

So there is Hone, new gloves and balls in hand, preparing to teach a game to a group of people who have never played it. Only a few, he said, knew anything about softball or baseball.

``Some of them were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with American troops,'' he said. ``So they saw it being played. But that's it.''

How does one go about teaching the game to people who have no experience with it? Hone said he started with the basics.

``I just told them to start playing catch,'' he said. ``It was funny, some of them wanted to wear the glove on their throwing hand. From there, I taught them the basic step and swing, and then I got into the bases and all the rules.''

Hone said he is still in the teaching phase. The group plays Wednesdays on a soccer field, with pieces of cardboard as bases. Right now, they play a sort of round-robin game, but Hone said he hopes to get a real softball game going soon.

``They are getting there,'' he said. ``It's just like anywhere, there are some players who are natural athletes and they're picking it up faster. We've been challenged to a game by the non-commissioned officers academy. They want in on it, too.''

For Hone and his team, the softball is about more than softball.

``We work very hard, it's very up-tempo, and so softball is a very good release,'' he said. ``Everyone comes out. Even those who don't play will come out and watch. It's a good release for them, and for me.''

Hone who left in October for Albania (with another box of equipment in tow) will be there until May 1. Asked if six months is enough time to teach them everything they need to know about the game, or if they will lose interest once he leaves, Hone shrugged.

``It'll be OK when I'm gone,'' he said. ``There are a couple of guys who have really taken to the game. They'll carry the torch.''

___

Information from: Daily News-Sun, http://www.dailynews-sun.com/

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