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NEWS | Oct. 14, 2010

Base fielder snags all-military debut

By Patrick Desmond 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

At the All-Air Force camp, Warhawks right fielder Richard Burley turned what could have been a one-and-done event into a month-long triple play.

All September, Burley repeatedly elevated his game, surviving the All-Air Force training camp, helping the Air Force team win its second straight Armed Forces tournament gold medal and playing for the All-Armed Forces team in an amateur national championship.

Even more impressive, the trip was the military training instructor's first introduction to an all-service competition.

"It was exactly what I expected," the technical sergeant said. "No one takes a play off at the Air Force game."

From day one at the Air Force training grounds in Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., he knew he had to give it his all, just the way he likes it.

"Everyone is diving. People are running into fences, jumping on fences to stop home runs. It's intense," Burley said. "It was awesome to see the level at which everyone wanted to go to make that team."

But not long ago Burley wasn't even in the starting lineup at the base level. He was a long way from playing in a stadium in Oklahoma City as a member of the Armed Forces team.

A high school baseball player from Taylor, Mich., Burley gravitated toward the military's game and the athletic opportunities it presented after joining the Air Force.

He rode the bench during two seasons at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and one at Lackland as he adjusted.

"I was pretty much a defensive substitution," Burley said, adding defense came naturally.

Batting, however, was something else.

As hitting a baseball is considered one of sports tougher skills, the former hardballer might add hitting a softball - exactly where you want it - is pretty difficult, too. And crucial.

"Hitting wise, softball is a different game," Burley said.

Burley plied himself over the next four years, batting three times weekly to become an RBI threat.

He played for his group's 2009 base intramural champion team, the base varsity and a city team. He's kept the Air Force softball program in the forefront of his mind.

"Even when I was at Hurlburt Field, that was something I looked into doing," he said. "At the time I wasn't good enough. I didn't know what it took to be a good softball player."

He was determined day-in, day-out and it finally paid off.

"That's what I pride myself on - 100 percent, all the time," Burley said.

Following 16 days of two-a-day practices and afternoon scrimmages, and nine days with the Air Force squad, he got his first test during the team's 16-3 win over the Marines.

Burley caught a gem, diving to save a ball hit deep to right field.

"The ball actually popped out of my glove," the All-Air Force's starting right fielder said. "You dive and the only thing you can think is, don't let that ball hit the ground."

He made a freehand catch to save the out.

The All-Air Force team (7-2) went on to win six more, including three key victories over second-place Army (6-3).

Burley couldn't be more satisfied with his September.

"The best experience of it all was the camp itself," he said. "Getting to know the other players ... guys coming from Germany, Japan and Korea. It was a great experience."

Now, he said, he's "looking forward to time with the family" and a little break from softball.