Flying the flag in Germany

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Aaron Woodall was born at Travis Air Force Base in California and has spent his entire life as a military brat. He is currently stationed at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany with his wife Crystal and four children- Amelia, Carson, Camden and Charlie.

He joined the U.S. Army as an Active Duty Combat Medic. After a yearlong deployment from Fort Stewart (Ga.) to Afghanistan, he came back to reenlist for orders to Germany, where he served in the Same Day Surgery, the Post Anesthesia Care Unit and eventually the Infection Prevention and Control Program.

In addition to his military career, Woodall also has an impressive baseball career, which includes leading his Landstuhl Falcons- a team made up of American military men stationed in Germany- to be the first such team accepted into of one its foremost baseball leagues.

After playing little league across the United States, Woodall moved to Europe and competed in the International Little League, eventually leading Team Europe to the 2001 Senior Little League World Series., which was held in Weisbaden, Germany. “I made some friends from the Deutschland team and stayed in contact with them over the years. After I joined the Army, I would eventually have the chance to return to Germany in 2012.”

A local field was being used by a Deutscher Baseball und Softball Verband e.V. (DBV) team in the Hessischer Baseball & Softball Verband e.V. (HBSV). The DBV is the entire baseball league over all of Germany, housing 10 divisions and more than 200 baseball and softball teams spread across all of Germany.

After doing some research, Woodall discovered that there was a division of the DBV in his area (Rheinland-Pfalz), called the Südwestdeutschen Baseball- und Softballverbandes (SWBSV). “I met with the President of the division and requested to add a new team to the league. The DBV and SWBSV has rules regarding the use of foreign nationals playing on German teams; basically, no more than three international players can play on a single team. Since we were an all-American team, it immediately caused a discussion.”

Woodall’s passion for the game and ambition were helpful, but not as much as something he’d picked up from his previous travels:

“What I believe opened the door was the fact that I can speak German.” I’ve always remembered a quote from Clifton Fadiman I came across years ago: ‘remember that foreign countries aren’t designed to make you comfortable; they’re designed to make their own people comfortable.’”

After being accepted into the league, Woodall started to spread the word throughout across his Kaiserslautern Military Community and after passing out coultless flyers and running ads in the local military newspaprer, the players came trickling in. Of course, that would not be the end of Woodall’s player procurement process.

“Because our mission is always first, many players had to change duty stations, leave for training, deployments, and other various issues such as night shift workers, which causes our roster to be ever-evolving. Basically, the team at the beginning of the season is not the team at the end of the season. But since we’re all in the military, there is a bond we have, which created smooth transitions. Everyone worked together very well; there is already a trust there, and we build on it.”

79 INNINGS WITH AARON WOODALL AND THE LANDSTUHL FALCONS

IP: What has the financing process been like for your club?

AW: “Finding support while being here in Germany is very tough, and spreading the word about an American Military team playing in a German league is even tougher. We pulled together uniforms and equipment and some things were donated. The Los Angeles Dodgers sent us a dozen baseballs- which meant the world to us; our first few practices we only had cones for bases, five baseballs and one bat!”

IP: How has the German community embraced you?

AW: The German community has been great. With soccer being the number one sport, baseball is still new to a lot of people. Interest is growing more and more every year. It is really great getting out in the local community to teach kids who have never seen the game played or some who have never even heard of the greatest game in the world.

IP: How about the Military Community?

AW: It has been great as well; we have been commended many times from the Command Groups of all the military Branches here. We started youth camps last season to teach kids better basics and mechanics of baseball. With the kids being in military families they are constantly moving around, missing seasons, or coming in halfway through, so getting them focused on fundamentals is a big deal.

IP: How did you come up with your team name?

AW: Our team name came from a mixture of who we are. We chose the city of Landstuhl, since it’s home to the premier military hospital in Europe. Our ‘Falcon’ mascot is a tribute to the Air Force and the F-16 Fighting Falcon and, coincidentally, the Peregrine Falcon has a large population here in our area of Germany. We took it as an omen when there were several of them sitting on the field our first day of practice!

IP: What significance do you think the latest news with your club will have with baseball in Germany?

AW: Teams from Germany are constantly asking us how we play baseball ‘the American way.’ We were even asked to bring American condiments and snacks to one tournament to make the games “as American as possible.” I do hope in the future the DBV rules will be amended to allow more foreign nationals on teams. The Germans play the game just as well as we do, but there are still opportunities to train and guide their players.

The more we travel around, the more spectators come out. We’re constantly become bombarded with questions about baseball and the United States and asked to take photos.

IP: What are the questions you get asked the most?

AW: I think the question I get asked the most is where do I come from and who is my favorite team. Being an all-military team, we hold ourselves to a high standard and strive to not only meet it, but exceed it. Because of that, the word has spread that the Landstuhl Falcons are not a team who bulldozes everyone, but really takes the time and care to help the game grow in Germany. We play just as hard as the next team and that we are not better than anyone.

IP: What differences are there with baseball overseas when compared to baseball in the US?

AW: When it comes to differences, there are not too many. The DBV has modeled the rules after the rules of Major League Baseball, with some exceptions. Each team is required to have in at the minimum two umpires and one scorekeeper to tally the books.

Managing styles differ greatly and so does strategy. I think that every manager in our league does a great job but at the end of the day, the level of knowledge is different.

Skill level and ability of players is also variable. Probably the last significant difference is that all managers also play on the team, which would be unusual in U.S.

IP: What similarities are there with baseball overseas when compared to baseball in the US?

AW: The biggest similarity is the heart and soul of the game. Regardless of your nationality or how long you’ve played the game, you just can’t help but feel at home when you step on the field.

IP: How about your first season in the SWBSV? What will you remember most?

AW: Our 2015 season took us to some amazing places. We played some great teams and made many new friends. Being the only American team around always drew crowds. We were invited to play in Europe’s oldest baseball tournament [the Eifel Cup hosted by the Zulpich Eagles] and to the Cheese Tournament, in Gouda, Netherlands. We also played teams in France, set up mini-tournaments with the French and teams from Luxembourg. Our official SWBSV schedule consisted of ten away games (we didn’t have a field of our own) against competition from St. Ingbert, Saarbrucken, Kaiserslautern, Speyer, Beckerich and the Saarlouis Hornets, who became an instant rival. In 2015 we started practices on February 4 and our last game was October 11. We had a long and productive season. We would practice three days a week, with players coming out after long shifts or just before heading to work at night.”

The comradery and friendships built between the teams in our league is amazing; seeing our players interact with teams from Europe is one of the greatest things I’ve experienced. Language barriers don’t damper the language of baseball!