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#TGW: Diamond and Pearls

Nov. 9, 2017

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Captain Joshua Kopsie has never thought twice about putting his life on the line for the greater good.

That’s part of being in the military.

The 30-year-old Philadelphia native and 2009 graduate of West Point has never sought a “thank you” for that. That’s also part of being in the military and what he’s always been all about.

For Kopsie, Operations Officer for the Georgia Tech ROTC program, “thank you” comes in life’s little things — little things like seeing the group of 18-to-21 year-olds have the opportunity to run and stretch and laugh and throw a baseball under a clear, blue sky on the green grass and nicely manicured clay of Russ Chandler Stadium.

Those opportunities for others have led to him doing three separate tours of duty in Afghanistan (2011-12, 2014 and 2016), and come at a cost of him missing out on irreplaceable moments like his daughter Kennedy’s firsts, or being there for his wife, Courtney, during the birth of their son, Cooper.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over in southeast Asia, in Afghanistan, trying to help the Afghan people better their country,” said Kopsie, who is coming up on the one-year anniversary of being home from his most recent deployment. “The last deployment was the toughest one. My second deployment, I left two weeks after my daughter was born. That was real tough on my wife.

“It hadn’t hit me yet. I was really focused on Afghanistan at the time,” he added. “Yes, the birth of my child was fantastic but making sure my soldiers had everything that they needed and keeping them alive and then keeping myself alive was the No. 1 priority. But this last deployment, my daughter was two-and-a-half, going into three, my son was born, I wasn’t home for my son’s birth. My daughter, she understood, `Hey, Daddy’s gone.’ Her mom did a great job of continuing to raise them, with some help from our family members.”

There’s no way to get those moments back and hearing about such unselfishness can leave you wondering “What can I do to show gratitude?”

Georgia Tech baseball head coach Danny Hall felt that way and when an opportunity to do something arose, he jumped on it like a hitter jumps on a hanging breaking ball.

“We can’t thank those guys enough for what they do to give us the opportunities that we have here in the United States,” said Hall. “He emailed me early in the fall and told me that he was involved with the ROTC here, gave me his background of going to West Point, pitching on their baseball team and asked was there any way that he could get involved a couple of days a week kind of as a volunteer. We are working on getting him approved and certified, as well as on his title.”

Kopsie had dabbled in pitching while at West Point, where, even there, he put the team above himself.

“My freshman year, I pitched in a couple of fall games and then in the spring, Coach Joe Sottolano, realized that our only sidearm pitcher coming out of the bullpen was graduating,” he recalled. “I didn’t travel with the team at all my first spring year. I went home and worked with a pitching coach to learn how to become a submarine pitcher. I did that all spring. I transformed from a three-quarters (arm slot) guy to a submarine guy that year.”

His baseball career would not go much further than the following fall as he stopped playing ball to pursue other opportunities within the military, but he never lost the love of baseball.

So he got the greenlight from Hall and he is overjoyed about the opportunity to get back on the diamond — in ANY capacity.

“I said, `Hey, Coach, I’ve been away from the diamond for about 10 years now, but I want to come back and try to give back, whether it’s picking up balls in the outfield … Anything you have for me,'” he said.

Who’s luckiest depends on who you ask. Hall believes that his players and even his coaches are the lucky ones.

“He has done a lot of things in his life already at a young age that I think is very valuable for our players to hear, see and understand,” said Hall. “He’s got stories that, certainly, I can’t relate to and none of our players can because he’s been on the front lines. So I’m excited to have him and I think he enjoys kind of getting a break away from the military a couple of times during the week when he can get out here. I think we’re just fortunate that he’s here and we enjoy having him around when he can be around.”

Kopsie, who has hands big enough to palm three baseballs — and room enough to possibly sneak in a fourth — admits his one regret is that he never learned to throw “an actual change-up.” But he prides himself on helping the current Yellow Jackets avoid life’s change-ups.

“I’m here to hopefully impart on them a little bit of my wisdom and some of my experience that I’ve had in leadership positions throughout my career,” he said. “Not just part of baseball but in life in general. Hopefully I can impart some of that.

“The kids here are great. Every time I go to talking and kind of tell them about something they give me their full respect and allow me to talk. It makes them critically think,” he added. “That is how close I think baseball is, kind of, to combat, especially as an Army officer. You have to critically think. Baseball is a thinking man’s game. Same thing with Afghanistan, same thing with Iraq. In these type of complex, counter-insurgencies there’s a multitude of different facets that you are trying to fix, if you will. How does one impact another? What are the second-, third-, fourth-order effects? I’ve got to be able to think through that. So in baseball, I’ve got to be able to think through my different pitch sets, maybe how I’m going to move runners based off of outs. I’m doing that kind of in combat, as well, as an Army officer. I’m moving chess pieces around the battlefield.”

On Saturday afternoon, Kopsie will be on Historic Grant Field as he and scores of military personnel of all branches participate in a pregame ceremony as part of Georgia Tech’s Military Appreciation Day.

There will be pregame skydivers, a special playing of the national anthem, with a giant American flag presented by Georgia Tech student veteran groups and military personnel from military bases throughout the South, commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ROTC, special recognition throughout the game of Georgia Tech alumni that have served our country in the military, a salute to the Wounded Warrior Project and a swearing-in ceremony for the newest members of our armed forces at halftime.

“This year is the 100-year anniversary of ROTC at Georgia Tech. On Saturday at the football game, we’ll have pretty good event,” he said. “We’ll be out on the field for honors to the nation, we’re going to have about 300 cadets up in the stands for the game. Then there’s a nice video that the athletic department put together talking about the 100 years and how far we’ve come with D.O.D., ROTC and Georgia Tech.

“It’s going to be fantastic. The athletic department, (Director of Marketing, Sales & Fan Experience) Markeisha Everett has been great helping make this a great ceremony,” he added. “We’re going to have a field-size flag out there, we have some soldiers coming up from Fort Benning, a lot of the student vets — and there are a lot here at Georgia Tech that are in undergrad, master’s degree and PhD programs. They’re going to be out there holding the flag. We’ll be in south end zone, with the formation of Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs before the game starts to render honors to the nation and then we’ll be up in the stands for the rest of the game. So it’s absolutely fantastic.”

For Hall, so is simply having Kopsie around — however often that may be.

“He will be able to come a couple of times a week. We enjoy having him around when he can be around,” he said. “The interesting thing for me is here’s a guy that went to West Point, played, obviously, a competitive level of baseball, has been to Afghanistan three times already and he’ll leave here after a year as a major in the Army but he has done a lot of things in his life already at a young age that I think is very valuable for our players to hear, see and understand. I think we’re just fortunate that he’s here.”


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