Post 17 players answering the call of duty

Naugatuck Post 17 players Mike Natkiel, left, and Nate Deptula are in their final season playing for Naugatuck. Both plan to join the armed forces after the summer. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — The American Legion is a United States veterans’ organization, active in lobbying for former servicemen and women. In an effort to promote leadership and active citizenship, American Legion formed an organization based on America’s national pastime, American Legion baseball, in 1925.

Almost 95 years later, two teammates from Naugatuck Post 17 will soon call themselves servicemen.

Nate Deptula and Mike Natkiel are in the midst of their final summer playing sports in Naugatuck before the next chapter of their life begins.

For Natkiel, that next chapter is joining the U.S. Marines in September. Deptula plans to pursue a baseball career in college, but he will also join the U.S. Army National Guard Reserves.

“I originally wasn’t going to play Legion this summer,” Deptula said. “But after high school, I wasn’t ready to say I played my last home game at Naugy. That is why I’m trying to play in college. I don’t want to be done with baseball yet.”

Natkiel also knew his Naugatuck sports career was nearing the end, which is what made him decide to play Legion ball for the first time this summer.

“My mentality going into this Legion season was to just have fun,” Natkiel said. “This is the last time I can play and be with my friends. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Deptula and Natkiel will forever cherish the lessons they learned from sports, and those lessons can be applied to their military service.

“There is definitely the teamwork part of it, but you also have to be motivated,” said Natkiel, who also played football at Naugatuck High. “Part of the military is staying in really good shape, but you also have to have that mental ability on top of the physical ability. I think those long practices definitely translate into that physical and mental aspect.”

“There’s definitely that competitiveness,” Deptula said. “Not the type of competitiveness when you are going against each other but pushing yourself to get in better shape or just to get better at what you are doing.”

Deptula and Natkiel’s competitive drive has helped Post 17 this season in a tight race in Zone 5.

Natkiel was tied for fourth on team with six RBI through 20 games, with five of those coming over a four-game stretch early this month. As the team’s primary catcher, he leads Naugy in putouts and has caught five runners stealing.

Deptula, who was also the ace pitcher for the Naugatuck Greyhounds, is 4-2 on the mound this summer with a 0.88 ERA through 20 games. He has not gone less than six innings in any start and opponents have just a .188 batting average against him.

Both players feel that Post 17 can go far in their last hoorah, just like last season when Naugy made it to the second round of the state tournament.

“This year, we got off to a slow start, but we also got off to a slow start last year and then we made it far into the season,” Deptula said. “We just have to have that same mentality right now.  Just get hot, then stay hot.”