Former Major League Pitcher reflects on career in the National Guard

May 05, 2020

When Geoff Zahn was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968, he knew he wanted to play baseball professionally but felt the need to serve his country as well. Like many ball players before him, military service during war time was common.

Not sure what the future would hold due to the ongoing-conflict in Vietnam, Zahn decided to join the Army National Guard so he could serve on his terms.

“I originally signed up to be an engineer and attended my basic training at Fort Leonard Wood,” said Zahn. “I was coming up through the Dodgers organization and in 1970 I was assigned to the Spokane Indians and transferred to the Air National Guard to continue my service.”

Zahn, now 74, played professional baseball from 1968 to 1985 as part of four major league organizations, including 13 years in the major leagues with the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins and California Angels.
During that time he also served as a part of the Michigan and Washington National Guard, including a stint with the 141st Fighter Group in Spokane.

“I really enjoyed my time in Spokane,” said Zahn. “I served part-time during the season and then worked full-time for the unit in the winter.”

The 1970 season was a special one for Zahn and the Spokane Indians. Managed by baseball hall of famer Tommy Lasorda, the star studded roster had 19 future major leaguers including All-Stars Bill Buckner, Steve Garvey, Doyle Alexander, Davy Lopes, Charlie Hough and future Texas Rangers and New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine. The team would go on to win the Pacific Coast League Championship and be named the “Best Minor League Team the second half of the 20th century.”

“It was so busy during the season but I appreciated the flexibility of the National Guard,” said Zahn. “If I missed a weekend [drill] I was able to make it up with the unit later in the quarter.”

After being assigned to Albuquerque during the 1971 season, Zahn continued to serve in the 141st. During spring training in 1973 Zahn was promoted to the Major Leagues and decided to transfer back to the Michigan National Guard to finish his military service.

“I only served six years, but I really enjoyed my time with the National Guard,” said Zahn. “I appreciated my time getting to know the guys that were there year-round, glad I got the time with them, it was such a valuable experience.”