Air Force baseball alumni share memories

Batter Norm Haller gets a pitch from Larry Bryant as Sean Frank catches during an Air Force Academy baseball reunion game at the Academy Sept. 25, 2010. Haller is a 1960 graduate of the Academy, and Bryant and Frank are '75 graduates. (U.S. Air Force photo/Johnny Wilson)

Batter Norm Haller gets a pitch from Larry Bryant as Sean Frank catches during an Air Force Academy baseball reunion game at the Academy Sept. 25, 2010. Haller is a 1960 graduate of the Academy, and Bryant and Frank are '75 graduates. (U.S. Air Force photo/Johnny Wilson)

Bruce Huneke watches an Air Force baseball reunion game Sept. 24, 2010, along with Allan Macartor and Jim Steed. Huneke is a 1965 Academy graduate and Vietnam veteran; Macartor and Steed are both 1964 graduates. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Bruce Huneke watches an Air Force baseball reunion game Sept. 24, 2010, along with Allan Macartor and Jim Steed. Huneke is a 1965 Academy graduate and Vietnam veteran; Macartor and Steed are both 1964 graduates. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Air Force baseball head coach Michael Kazlausky, facing camera, hugs Troy Simon, an all-american catcher who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1992, during an Air Force baseball reunion at the Academy Sept. 24, 2010. More than 50 alumni attended the three day reunion Sept. 24-26. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Air Force baseball head coach Michael Kazlausky, facing camera, hugs Troy Simon, an all-american catcher who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1992, during an Air Force baseball reunion at the Academy Sept. 24, 2010. More than 50 alumni attended the three day reunion Sept. 24-26. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Former Air Force baseball players gathered to share memories, celebrate their heritage and inspire a new generation of athletes during an alumni reunion weekend Sept. 24-26 at the Academy.

"To get together every three or four years is a great opportunity to rekindle old friendships and get reacquainted with the program again," said Deke Winters, a 1980 graduate and one of the reunion organizers. "It's important for me to try to bridge the gap between the current players and the old players."

The reunion, themed to honor players from the 1960s, attracted 56 baseball alumni to take the field again for some friendly competition and show their support for the Air Force baseball program.

"All of us ex-ball players are going to try to meet every present-day ball player and explain to them how lasting an honor it is to be an Air Force baseball player," said Fred Olmsted, a '64 graduate and one of 14 players from the 1960s to attend the reunion.

Mr. Olmsted and classmate Allan McArtor played on the team that still holds the highest percentage of wins in Academy baseball history. Both also went on to fly F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam after graduation, where they say their experiences as cadet-athletes helped prepare them for flying and beyond.

"Collegiate sports prepare you for combat, and combat prepares you for corporate life," said Mr. McArtor, who was an Air Force Thunderbird and continued his career in the civilian air industry. He currently serves as chairman of Airbus Americas, Inc.

With two MiG kills to his name, one in the F-4 Phantom located on the southeast corner of the terrazzo, Mr. Olmsted echoed his teammate's sentiment and shared a message for Air Force athletes of today.

"Never ever forget the closeness and the bond that Air Force athletes need to have," he said. "We always thought that there was some way we were just going to be better than the next team, or in combat, better than the next guy we flew against.

"And, those feelings that you start building up, and the trust, and the bond that you develop with your fellow athletes, stay with guys like me for the rest of our lives."