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Air Force dependent ends season in pros

Ronnie Morales throws a fast pitch to his father Master Sgt. Labaca, 22nd Contracting Squadron, in their back yard Nov. 21. During the Major League Baseball off-season from the Chicago White Sox, the left handed pitcher attends Wichita State University where he majors in Physiology. (photo by Airman 1st Class Jessica Lockoski)

Ronnie Morales throws a fast pitch to his father Master Sgt. Labaca, 22nd Contracting Squadron, in their back yard Nov. 21. During the Major League Baseball off-season from the Chicago White Sox, the left handed pitcher attends Wichita State University where he majors in Physiology. (photo by Airman 1st Class Jessica Lockoski)

Ronnie Morales and father, Master Sgt. Labanca, 22nd Contracting Squadron stand together at a Wichita State College baseball game in 2006 where he played for the Shockers. He has since moved on to play for the Chicago White Sox. (courtesy photo)

Ronnie Morales and father, Master Sgt. Labanca, 22nd Contracting Squadron stand together at a Wichita State College baseball game in 2006 where he played for the Shockers. He has since moved on to play for the Chicago White Sox. (courtesy photo)

Ronnie Morales pitches at a Chicago White Sox baseball game this season.  He finished his first season with the Sox with an earned run average of 2.90, 32 strikeouts, and an overall team record of 27-10. (courtesy photo)

Ronnie Morales pitches at a Chicago White Sox baseball game this season. He finished his first season with the Sox with an earned run average of 2.90, 32 strikeouts, and an overall team record of 27-10. (courtesy photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- -- It can be entertaining to teach and watch a toddler to conceive the idea of catch and toss. He gives his entire might whipping the ball, much bigger than his hand. And, the ball flies only a few yards away, straight in to the ground as he grins in confidence the entire play.

This was much the case for Ronnie Morales, son of Master Sgt. Anthony Labanca, 22nd Contracting Squadron and wife Sherri, as he embarked on the innocent children's activity that one day lead to his career.

Two decades later, Ronnie routinely takes his position on the pitchers mound. Commanding the mound at 6 foot 3 inches, he stands peering down the 60 foot stretch at his intended target.

With all his childhood passion inside, he launches the ball with a furious velocity. All in front of an audience larger than any that could fit in his back yard.

As an Air Force dependent, Ronnie has overcome obstacles that many military children encounter to meet their becoming-of-age goals. This past baseball season, at age 22, he meets his goal of playing professional baseball for the Chicago White Sox.

Since Sergeant LaBanca has been in the Air Force, the family has been through six change-of-duty stations, including two overseas tours in Guam and Germany.

And while many dependents might find constantly moving around the globe a bit frustrating, adjusting to new cultures, peers and social activities, Ronnie kept his changes with a positive outlook.

"All of the moves have been a good time", said Ronnie. "I have had a chance to experience things that many adults probably haven't in a lifetime."

Ronnie started his career learning how to pitch when he was three years old in his back yard. Throughout the years, Sergeant LaBanca would help coach his son in tee-ball, coach-pitch and even his high school career teaching his son to "leave no doubt" in himself when it came to accomplishing his goals.

Being stationed in Guam gave him the chance to play organized baseball and again while in Germany he felt as if he had given the opportunity that many sports prodigies find hard to come by.

"One of the best times in my career so far, was in Germany," he said. "I had the chance to do what a lot of kids dream to do by playing in both the Junior league and the Senior league series contests with Team Europe."

While stationed in Malstrom AFB, Mont. with his family, Ronnie realized his sports program was not available at school and in the military community. Strapped with this disadvantage, he played in the community for American Legion sponsored baseball and was named conference Pitcher of the Year three times while earning academic honors in school.

"Moving around complicated tryouts and practices," he said. "In Montana, the high school I attended didn't have a baseball team. But, I have become adaptable from living in different places and playing with different people. It has made me coach-able and a good teammate around different players."

And as many military parents miss out on their children's daily activities while on deployments, Sergeant LaBanca found methods of staying connected with Ronnie's accomplishments.

"It was extremely difficult to miss most of his college baseball career because of deployments," he said. One of the best nights while deployed in Afghanistan, was when I saw him pitch live on the Internet."

Though the games were not televised at his locations, through internet broadcasts, e-mails and phone calls they stayed up-dated.

"My dad inspired me to play with more heart while he was deployed," said Ronnie. He has sent me some of the most inspiring letters I had ever read."

With much success in college playing at three different colleges and universities he ended his senior year at Wichita University playing for the Shockers.

He was drafted as a rookie this spring by the White Sox and finished his first professional season with an earned run average of 2.90, 32 strikeouts, and an overall team record of 27-10.

"I would look at the military lifestyle as an advantage to children today because it gives them more decisions in life and experience more things before they decide what they really seek after," said Ronnie. I would say it is far from impossible to live any dream you have, and with support of my family and friends, I am proof of that today."