‘Thrill of a Lifetime’: Baseball Coach Steve Trimper takes flight with the Blue Angels

One night earlier, Coach Steve Trimper’s Hatters had thumped the nationally ranked Florida Gators by a score of 6-1. 

Now, Trimper was mere hours away from a self-described “thrill of a lifetime.”

On May 12, Trimper was at Orlando Melbourne International Airport’s Sheltair Aviation Services to take flight in a U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighter jet.

For the past 75 years, the Blue Angels have been saluting local citizens while raising the public’s interest in naval aviation during air shows. Trimper’s flight was in recognition of being a key influencer who positively impacts his community.

Coach Steve Trimper has made a significant community impact since arriving at Stetson in late 2016.

Trimper was chosen for accomplishments both on and off the field, becoming a community leader since arriving at Stetson to head the baseball program five years ago. His annual activities are highlighted by the Hometown Foundation’s Dream Ride Experience, which opens his team’s season. The event features Hatters and baseball players from the Miracle League of Volusia County, as well as Special Olympians, riding together in classic cars during a parade through downtown DeLand. 

His flight, partly ceremonial/mostly aerobatics, was a prelude to the Great Florida Air Show, May 15-16, which marked the Blue Angels’ first Melbourne appearance since 2015.

The thrills for Trimper began early.

When the baseball coach was handed his flight suit — a uniform of a very different sort — he quickly slipped it on over his shorts and T-shirt, and whispered, “It’s starting to get real now. … I think I’m official now.” 

Trimper is all smiles in preparation for the big flight.

His broad smile said it all. 

Minutes later, for good measure, he shared his emotions. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m an adrenaline junkie; I can tell you that,” Trimper said. “My bucket list for my life has literally been going up in an fighter pilot jet and doing a couple of turns around Daytona International [Speedway]. So, at least I’m getting one of them knocked off.”

And, no, he wasn’t considering this a victory, not like the previous night’s win against Florida or in the 2018 Super Regionals, when the Hatters were only a whisker away from the College World Series. This was personal. 

“The wins are rewards,” he continued. “For us, we have great people within our university and within our community. That helps us be successful, and I surround myself with unbelievable student-athletes. So, when we talk about big wins, we celebrate those with everybody. … This, here, is a little different. This is an adrenaline-junkie, bucket-list thing for me.

U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighter jet

“I’m just going to go and see if I can hold on. … I just hope I don’t pass out and embarrass myself.”

Trimper was given detailed instructions to avoid doing so, such as how to sit and breathe in the midst of G-force maneuvers at 700 mph or greater over the Atlantic Ocean. Controlled, prepared breathing could help prevent blackouts. Maybe. 

Among his instructions: posture back, head up, arms relaxed, squeeze legs into the seat but tighten only from the waiste down, short breaths. And then relax.

He heard that a positive G-force is any force greater than the natural state of gravity from the Earth. His fighter jet could handle a maximum of 7.5 G-forces (gravitational pull). Imagine hearing that about your plane before boarding a flight.

Trimper describes himself as an “adrenaline junkie.”

Another key directive: “If you feel uncomfortable [in the air], make sure you talk to 7 about it. He’ll calm you down, teach you a little bit and let you go again. If you’re not really feeling the [trip], you can always come back. Just make sure you communicate with 7.” 

Wearing a helmet that was “hot-mic’d,” Trimper’s voice would always be audible via an attached microphone.

His No. 7 — that’s what the pilot position is called for such special flights — was U.S. Navy Lt. Julius Bratton, a native of Tennessee who played football and track and field in high school. Also, he graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in oceanography. He joined the Blue Angels in 2019 and has amassed more than 1,500 flight hours, including 207 carrier-arrested landings. His decorations include a Strike Flight Air Medal, three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, and various other unit and personal awards. 

Bratton looked like he could still run around the football field, too. 

Trimper, ready for action, has the horizon in his sights.

Trimper arrived at the airport at about 10:30 that morning. His flight didn’t depart until almost 3 p.m. Waiting with a measureble crowd of supporters, including wife Lisa and one of his twin daughters, Ally, along with Stetson Athletics Director Jeff Altier and others from the university, there was plenty of pacing.

Blue Angels don’t move until the runway is clear, both literally and figurately. 

Then it was time.

Trimper, his 7 and their Blue Angels F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet left in a roar, heading toward the horizon. Finally.

In an instant, they were gone. The Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron was formed in 1946, making it the second oldest formal aerobatic team worldwide. And Trimper was in the cockpit.

Trimper handled all the maneuvers — well, with one exception.

On the clock, the time of return was only some 45 minutes. Yet, who could measure this? More telling, the fighter jet returned to applause from anxious family and friends, along with one jubilant, relieved and slightly dazed adrenaline junkie, his head still spinning. 

Departing the jet, the coach smiled. 

The pilot’s smile was just as wide.

“Flying Steve, it was amazing. It was a real treat. He handled all of the maneuvers,” Bratton said before causing laughter: “He asked me, ‘Did I pass out?’ Nobody has to ask that question. If you have to ask that question, then you did!” 

Trimper: “What a lifetime experience for me.”

Yes, Trimper lost consciousness, momentarily. It was on a G-7 maneuver, mostly achieved by aviators and astronauts. 

And a baseball coach who won’t soon forget.

“I feel like Mike Tyson [former champion boxer] right now,” he said, wobbling a bit on his first few steps back on land. “We did loops; we did turns; we did Mach 1; we were going straight down toward the water. And I only blacked out once. So, I’m pretty proud of myself. It was awesome. What a lifetime experience for me.”

-Michael Candelaria

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Editor’s note: Coach Steve Trimper now is hoping for another wild ride. His Hatters begin postseason play on May 21 in the ASUN Divisional Play-In Series.