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Stoddard was always driven to compete

Fearless. Focused. Driven.

Jamie Stoddard was determined to excel, whether pitching for Arundel High or leading troops into combat.

He reveled in rivalry, be it clearing out caves in Afghanistan or competing with soldiers in a footrace.

Stoddard's life in the Army formed a bridge between the military and sports. For the Crofton native, there was little difference between them.

He played football on rocky ground that bordered minefields. He practiced wrestling in preparation for fighting the Taliban. He lifted weights to make himself mentally fit under fire.

"He was in such good shape that he didn't have to worry about his body in combat," said Sgt. Allen Messimore, who served with Stoddard. "If your muscles ache and you're out of breath, you focus so much energy on your body that you can't think about the mission. Not Jamie. ... His physical presence was a given.

"He was totally able to make decisions [in battle] - and stay on them."

For Stoddard, competition was a way of life. His Arundel teammates remember him as a tenacious right-hander who helped them win a state title in 1993 and a No. 1 ranking nationally by Collegiate Baseball magazine. The next year, Arundel placed second in the state as Stoddard won seven of eight games and had an ERA of 2.31.

"I can still see Jamie standing out there, staring down hitters," said Brandon Agamennone, the ace of that Arundel staff. "What went on between them was a war. Jamie's look on the mound said, 'You're challenging me and you have no idea what you're up against and I'm going to beat you.' "

That mind-set served the sergeant first class well. A career soldier, he enjoyed turning routine military fitness tests into an intramural sport within his platoon, Messimore said.

"As a squad leader, Jamie would talk trash to other squad leaders - not to belittle them, but to get them to push their men to reach his level," he said. "Since Jamie's bar was twice as high as Army standards, it was a win-win."

Stoddard fed on gamesmanship. At the U.S. base near Kandahar, Afghanistan, he often challenged comers to see who could complete the most push-ups in a set time.

"I took him on many times," Staff Sgt. Leovardo Montero said. "Once, I did 106 push-ups, but Jamie had done 115.

"I'd always say, 'I'll get you next time.' But I never beat him."

Woe unto the soldier who would size up the 220-pound Stoddard and brag he could beat him in a footrace.

"I had one squad leader, last name of Roach, who didn't know Jamie and said, 'Well, I'll outrun you,'" Master Sgt. Patrick Rousey said. "They ran three miles, and Jamie crushed him. ... Roach never ran with him again."

Another time, Rousey said, Stoddard was stricken with stomach cramps during the platoon's four-mile run around the base. At the one-mile mark, Stoddard disappeared into a portable toilet, stayed there four minutes and then took off in a sprint.

"He caught up with me," Rousey said.

On those occasions when he didn't win, Stoddard took defeat hard.

"He moped around with his bottom lip stuck out," Rousey said.

Despite seven years overseas, Stoddard maintained a keen interest in the games played back home.

"Jamie was an encyclopedia for baseball, football and boxing," Messimore said. "He knew the statistics for every player, every fighter.

"I'd say, 'Jamie, how do you know this stuff?'

" 'I read,' he'd say."

Stoddard was killed Sept. 30, 2005, when the Humvee in which he was riding careened off a dirt road near Kandahar and rolled into a ditch. His company was racing to provide reinforcements in a shootout with suspected Taliban.

At Stoddard's funeral in Odenton, at least 25 Arundel baseball alums paid their respects. They remembered No. 12 who would throw himself in front of a line drive to save a run or slide into first base to scratch out a hit.

The service was a bittersweet affair, former teammate Brian Burden said.

"It was like a team reunion, for all of the wrong reasons."

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