Lehi Community member Robert Aguilar (Maricopa/Pima/Paiute) started playing baseball as a child in the 1950s, playing in elementary school and at East Mesa Junior High and Mesa High School. After Aguilar graduated from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy. While in boot camp at the U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego, he saw an announcement asking for interested baseball players to play for center’s team. Before he knew it, he was on the team.
“I played ball with the Naval Training Center Bluejackets for a year,” said Aguilar. The team played games against other military teams and college teams in California.
Aguilar has kept newspaper clippings that featured him playing with the Bluejackets and another team as well, the Pearl Harbor Fighting Admirals, which he joined when he was sent to Hawaii. He played third base and shortstop on both teams.
In Hawaii his team was able to play against a lot of college teams because there was only one team in that state and he said it would be senseless to travel that distance to play a game and go back to the mainland the next day, so the colleges would play the military team as well. Aguilar recalled when he hit a two-run homer for the Fighting Admirals against Stanford, leading the team to victory.
“I want to inspire young people who play sports to continue playing after high school, maybe in college or in the military, and to be active because it can take you places like it did for me,” he said. After Navy training in San Diego and his stint in Hawaii, Aguilar traveled around the world. He went overseas twice and was stationed on board the USS Hanson, US Navy DDR-832 for two years. He was back playing baseball again just before getting discharged from the Navy.
“I gained a lot of skills being in the Navy as a machinery repairman, working with the pumps and steam generators,” he said. He continued to utilize the skills he learned in the Navy when he became a civilian. He said it was easy to find work in San Francisco, where he lived for several years with his father’s family members. Years later, he returned to Arizona and worked as a welder for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
“I would encourage children to go to college to get an education, and to play sports. If you are good at those things and able to put your mind to it, I would give it a try,” said Aguilar. “You never know where it can take you.
“Back in my day, I really had no choice [except the military] because we lived in poverty and could not really buy clothing to attend college or even pay for it,” he said. “And now you can get scholarships and or get recruited by colleges.
“When you start playing in sports your ultimate goal is to do your best and go as high as you can. I think if I had a chance to attend college and play college ball, I would take full advantage of it,” said Aguilar.
Photos and newspaper clippings courtesy of Robert Aguilar.