EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
“Having a personal connection and bonding with the kids to where I can actually touch them spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Being able to connect and see them have those ‘aha’ moments while they are progressing,” said Capt. Joshua Gradaille, 33rd Fighter Wing executive officer. “That’s why I keep doing it.”
Gradaille started coaching children’s baseball at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., a little over two years ago. He found himself sitting on the bench of his son’s games thinking to himself, “there is more that can be done. Maybe they should do this or that.”
He has a lifelong connection to the game. Growing up in Miami Beach, Fla., Gradaille played many sports, but baseball was always set apart from the rest.
“Baseball was the sport I like to say I was good at,” he said. “I played all sports but it was the one I truly enjoyed.”
He enrolled his son in the sport when he was five, hoping he would learn many of the lessons he learned as a child while filling a gap that existed in his own baseball experience.
“I grew up without my father in the picture. My mother raised me on her own,” said Gradaille. “I always thought how cool it would be to have your dad involved with you playing sports and cheering you on. I want to give him things that I didn’t have growing up, to include that support and involvement of parents playing sports.”
Since getting involved in coaching, his purpose has stretched beyond his own son, to the other children on the team.
“I’m not only doing it for my child, but I’m doing it for these other kids,” said Gradaille. “Being that coach figure who’s molding and helping them to evolve in the sport and outside of it.”
That impact outside of their time on the field is what has had the most impact on Gradaille and he says is the reason he wants to continue coaching.
During one of the final games of the season, a father approached Gradaille about his son who changed over the course of the season.
“He thanked me and said that I made an impression on his son’s life,” said Gradaille, remembering the moment. “I don’t get to see how the things I teach these children translates outside of the time I am coaching them. They go home and go about their day. So it reminded me and reinforced why I am here and why I do what I do.”
Validating the efforts of Josh and his players, the Rangers finished their season as the only undefeated team in their age group.