All the way back in 1970 I was in the US Army standing on the “frontlines of freedom” making “the world safe for democracy” in Kassel, Germany. It’s a nice town and by 1970 had been pretty much restored from the Second World War. Most of the time you had a couple of days off during the week. A bunch of us would get together, grab a ball, a few bats, some company catcher’s equipment, our mitts, and “borrow” some bases and play a little ball.
Kassel had this big park area that was divided into two sections, one for families and individuals to stroll around, sit on benches, and enjoy the flowers and sunshine (when the sun was shining). The other area was for sports. There were basketball and tennis courts. There was a soccer pitch. There was also this big open area that, if we could get there quick enough, we’d turn into a baseball diamond. We could usually get six or seven players a side and play a few innings. Frankly, we weren’t very good but we enjoyed the time, the friendship, the game.
It didn’t take long for the local German fellas to come wandering over to see “What the heck are the crazy Americans doing?” Most of us knew a smattering of German like “Ein bier, bitte” or “Wo is der toilette?” (I won’t translate either, bet you can figure both of them out). A number of the Germans knew some English, so it might take a while but eventually we could explain to them baseball. They were fairly sure soccer (futbol) was better and much harder because you can’t use your hands. That led to the simple action of flipping a guy a bat, telling him to go stand at home, and “now try to hit the ball, slick.” They couldn’t. and that intrigued them so we began finding more and more Germans waiting for us when we came to play ball. We eventually ended up with enough guys to form two teams, have a couple of umpires, and even a sub or two on occasion.
I left after about a year to work on my degree. By that time I left, the Germans were getting better. They never understood the finer points of the game (and even I don’t understand all of them) but most could hit a little, could catch the ball most of the time, and were learning how to throw a baseball. They could run the bases well, but pitching seemed to absolutely buffalo them. I don’t recall a single local who could do more than lob the ball toward the plate.
I don’t know if they still play ball in Kassel. I know the army base closed. I don’t even know if the open space is still there. I do know that at least for a while, a handful of men and boys in Kassel, Germany got to experience the joys of a wonderful game. I hope some of them still do and that the ones my age still remember the moment fondly.
Tags: Kassel Germany