Back in the 1970s I got to spend some time in Germany (West Germany at the time) playing Army. I was pretty good at the playing part; not so great at the Army part. My wife was with me and we were able to travel and see more of Europe than we ever thought we’d see. The food was good (You did notice I started with the food, right?), the sights were amazing. But some of the people? They could be another story.
It was the era of the Red Army Faction, Baader-Meinhof Group and other assorted wing nuts from the left. There were also wing nuts from the right, but it was the wing nuts on the left that were most dangerous to we Americans. They did such things as shoot people, blow up stuff, and in general create mayhem. Eventually they were caught or killed and Germany went on its way with a new assortment of left and right-wing nuts. But for a short while the left-wing German nut cases, the US Army, and baseball all intersected.
One evening there was an attack on an American base (nowhere near mine) by a small group of terrorists. Or maybe it was a bunch of GIs out on the street (I forget which after all this time). Either way they didn’t do much damage, but they scared the high command in Europe and so the various bases were told to increase security. Our base had two units on it, a Headquarters Company (an administrative unit that ran an entire division) and an Adjutant General Company (they did the paperwork). Me? I’d had all the infantry and security work I could stand, so by this point I was a proud paper pusher in the Adjutant General (AG) Company. It was decided that each unit would supply a two-man patrol to walk around the inside of the base perimeter. Each company got half the perimeter, ours getting the side closest to a side street and the back of the post. The Headquarters unit got the other side street and the front of the post. The entire post was surrounded by a brick wall about 10 feet high and we had to walk around the inside base of the wall for a couple of hours then someone else would take our place. When the sun came up the regular Military Police took over the job.
Now you have to understand that an AG company is not the most militant of Army units. I was one of about three guys that had combat experience while most of the unit (male and female) had learned more or less which end of the rifle to point which way. When we were on “Alert,” which meant we’d been called in the middle of the night and told to prepare to repel the enemy (to use a Biblical phrase) “hip and thigh” out here on the “Frontiers of Freedom” as the “Tip of the Spear,” (they actually talked that way) the unit had to walk around carrying their rifles. This would go on for several hours, long enough for my wife occasionally to show up on post while the Alert was still ongoing. She would remind me frequently “Why is it I’m more afraid of your unit with guns than I am the Russians?” She had a point. She also wondered if someone had confused the tip of the spear with the blunt end. Although there were no bullets issued at those times, some of the idiots in my unit were more dangerous than Barney Fife with his one bullet (you could look him up if you don’t know who that is). And about equally smart. We used to kid that the unit song was the old World War I ditty “We’re here because we’re here.” (which just repeats over and over “we’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here because, we’re here” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.)
As luck would have it I got the very first patrol. As luck would also have it the company commander was as smart as my wife. No rifles were issued. Instead one of the two guards was handed a wooden baseball bat as both weapon and protection. The other guy got nothing but a prayer and a helmet. In my case, they handed the bat to the other guy. I was senior, so we figured the plan was for me to give brilliant orders while the other guy smashed about with the bat at whatever evil minion of either Satan or Communism it was we encountered. By this point you’re probably as worried about me giving orders, brilliant or otherwise, as both he and I were at the time.
So off we went, two guys, two helmets, one bat, and half a base to cover. All of which led to a conversation that went something like this:
Him: “When’s the last time you played ball?”
Me: “I was on the post baseball team a couple of years ago.”
Him: “Here,” as he handed me the bat.
Me taking it: “Why me?”
Him: “I haven’t played ball since Little League. You’ve played it since.”
Him: “So you have a better chance of knocking a grenade back over the wall.”
The scenario was supposed to be some terrorist would toss a grenade over the wall just as we waltzed by. I’d spot it and with one majestic swing knock the damned thing back over the wall so it would blow up the jerk who threw it rather than us. That probably sounds as stupid to you as it did to me.
“Are you serious?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know. I can’t think of any other reason why they gave us a ball bat. It’s useless against a gun or a bomb, but maybe the genius in charge thought one of us was Babe Ruth.” I resisted the urge to speculate that they might have been more afraid of us with a gun than they were of a terrorist with anything.
So off we went wandering both the well-lit byways and the not-so-well-lit backyards of an Army post in Germany. Along the way, back in a far corner where there was almost no light and absolutely no buildings; the exact kind of place where a left (or right) wing nut would try to infiltrate the base, we ran across the other two guards. One was flipping rocks toward the other guy who was banging them, with some success, with his bat.
“What the heck are you guys doing?”
“So we can knock the grenade back over the wall. Remember, your slugging percentage has to be a thousand.”
It seems great minds think alike (and so, apparently, did ours).
“Are you serious?”
“About the grenade? No, but I do play for the company baseball team and I could use the practice.”
So we joined them, taking turns tossing and swinging. I actually got one over the wall. After two hours of batting practice, mindless wanderings, and no grenades we were back at the company building and turned in the bat now covered with a bunch of dings, chips, and scratches where wood met rock much to the detriment of wood. The CQ (Charge of Quarters–that’s the guy manning the phones after normal hours in case the Commies come across the border or some drunk has to be picked up at the local Provost Marshall’s stockade) grinned at the much dinged up bat but didn’t say anything.
This went on for a couple of months before the powers that be decided we were safe from the resident wing nuts and cancelled the guard patrol. No one ever got to knock a grenade over the wall, which was kind of a shame. But the company baseball team ended up having to pick up a new bat.
Tags: baseball in the army