The first thing you hear from those playing in the annual Veterans Softball Tournament in The Villages is that it’s about the camaraderie. But it’s really about honoring those who have served our country.
The tournament will begin Sunday morning with Division 4 playing at Buffalo Glen Softball Complex and Division 5 plus a women’s team playing at Saddlebrook. The teams are broken up by branch of service, with women playing on a combined team. Last year, the women’s team won the Division 5 title.
One of those playing on the Division 5 Navy team this year is Wayne Lotsberg, who plays on the Sun Devils. All veterans’ service deserves to be honored, but Lotsberg’s record stands out.
He served as an aviator, flying A-4s and A-7s off carriers during two deployments to attack targets in North Vietnam. That country was known as the most heavily defended against air attack in the world. Lotsberg won three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two of them for assisting in the rescue of downed pilots.
“Combat squadron pilots share an incredible camaraderie,” he said. “The concern for each other is incredible.”
Then, in November 1972, Lotsberg had a close call of his own. His plane was hit by ground fire and he lost hydraulic control systems. He was able to nurse the plane out over the ocean, bailed out, and was rescued. Two days later, he returned to regular duty. His naval service, and that incident in particular, gave him a unique way of looking at softball.
“I don’t take it so seriously,” he said. “I’m lucky to be here. It’s really neat.”
Lotsberg, of the Village of Sunset Pointe, left the Navy in 1973 and bounced around a while. He’d gone into the Navy straight out of high school, so he had no college degree. Eventually, he landed in the burgeoning telecommunications field.
“Because of what I had done (in the Navy), I was hired on potential,” he said.
After working in the field for years, Lotsberg retired and moved to The Villages in 2010. He’s been playing softball since.
“I enjoy the physical act of playing,” he said. “I enjoy the guys and the fun of playing.”
He’ll be playing Sunday, but not until he represents all the veterans playing as he throws out the ceremonial first pitch.
“It’s nice to be in the veterans tournament,” he said.
Divisions 4 and 5 will continue the tournament Nov. 15, when the championship games will be played. That’s also the opening day for the combined divisions 1, 2 and 3 tournament, which will be played at Everglades Softball Complex. That tournament is scheduled to conclude Nov. 22.
Senior writer Steve Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.