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Work isn't a four-letter word to Steelman

July 03, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

Nothing comes easy for Nathan Steelman.

Steelman's has lived a real-life game of Survivor. He has faced numerous challenges since age 6 and earned immunity each time to stay on the island. Very little has been served up on the proverbial silver platter.

He overcame all the obstacles that go with being the child of a single parent to become a three-sport athlete and a 2004 Smithsburg graduate. It was followed by a mature decision to join the Army, which created a self-confidence that helped him pick a career path along with fulfilling a dream to pitch for the University of Maryland baseball team.

The 15-year trip wasn't simple, but the secret to it was. Everything started with - and is still deeply rooted in - sports and competition.

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"When I was younger, there were kids who were a lot more talented," Steelman said. "My coaches always said, 'You can't control talent, but you can control what you put into the sport.' I had to be better and I had to work hard. It was the same in the military Keep your mouth shut and keep working. Nothing is given to you. You got to take it."

The personal triumph of pitching for the Terps is the storybook ending for Steelman. He made his break as a walk-on left-handed relief pitcher who wasn't supposed to get much action. The season ended with Steelman in the bullpen of Maryland's traveling team, going 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA in eight appearances.

That's the happy ending to a story of diligence.

Steelman's 21-year saga starts like most kids - with the love of a mother who had the best intentions for her son.

Sharon Steelman started Nathan in sports to give him the things she couldn't.

"I started playing sports at 6," Steelman said. "We lived in Doub Meadows, which wasn't the best of neighborhoods. She was a single mom with three kids and she got us into sports to help keep us out of trouble. I was drawn to the competition and the camaraderie."

But Sharon Steelman was looking for more for her son.

"It was tough for a female to instill fatherly character traits," Steelman said. "So the way to do it was getting us in sports and let us work with the coaches."

The three "Cs" - competition, camaraderie and coaches - guided Steelman.

After playing through the area's youth programs, he capped it all in 2005 by playing on the Funkstown Post 202 team that won the post's first state title in 22 years.

The whole experience prepared Steelman for athletics at Smithsburg. And with the Leopards, he enjoyed success and got more guidance from coaches.

"It was everything," Steelman said. "It was football coach (Buddy) Orndorff, baseball coach (Bill) Fowkes and basketball coach (Eric) Gerber. It was also coach (Darryl) Powell while I played at Funkstown. They all taught me there were more than just sports in life."

Gerber made the biggest impression, so much so that Steelman still calls and talks with him.

"I talk to him every two weeks," Steelman said. "I learned a lot from him, about how to be a better man and person. He taught me that there was more to life than sports and that someday, I will be without it, but I should never give up. We only won five games my senior year, but we still had that 'never quit' attitude."

After graduating, Steelman went to play football at Shenandoah University with no scholarship. After a year of playing, Steelman came down with a case of reality.

"We didn't have the money," Steelman said. "While I was playing, it didn't hit me, but after I got home I realized it wasn't for me. My family was struggling. My mom was working, but I didn't want to have her working a second job just to get the $30,000 for me to play football."

That's when Steelman realized Gerber's lessons to be a better man and better person.

"I went to the (Army) to make money for school and to get life experience," Steelman said. "I wanted to become a well-rounded human being."

Steelman enlisted in August 2005 and spent six months at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training and military police school. Right before graduation, he got his cell phone back and called his best friend, Ricky Lewis. They traded some big news.

"I told Ricky that I was going to be with him with his unit in Chambersburg," Steelman said. "He said 'That's great. Did you know we are going to Iraq in two months?'"

Steelman, who is a Sergeant, was deployed with the 324th MP Battalion attached to the 16th MP Brigade in June 2006. He spent 15 months in Baghdad, where he was an MP guard. It gave him time to think.

"We had a lot of down time over there. I kept thinking I didn't want to lose athletics," Steelman said. "I'm so competitive. I wanted to accomplish more and more."

Steelman received a letter from the mother of Gerry Spessard, a good friend from Smithsburg who was playing baseball at Maryland, which conjured up some old "don't quit" memories. He decided to pursue a dream of playing baseball for Maryland while in Iraq.

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