Posts Tagged ‘Kassel Germany’

Gunther Decides He Can Pitch

May 24, 2018

Main Square Kassel, Germany

Way back in 1970 the US Army decided I could help save the world if they sent me to a little base not far from Kassel, Germany. It was a nice enough place, the duty wasn’t hard, the beer was good and so was the fellowship.

There was a baseball diamond on post, but the place also had a ball team so the peons weren’t supposed to use the diamond, and thus mess it up, during ball season, so we had to find another place to play. The solution was in downtown Kassel. We’d head over to the place they stored the sports equipment, draw out a set of rubberized bases, a set of catchers equipment, some bats and balls, and pile into a couple of cars the guys had (I didn’t have a car) and drive down to Kassel. The town was a nice enough place with several parks. One of them was divided into two sections. One section had trees and paths and benches and small open areas where people could walk and sit and talk and kids could run and play and just do all the things that families and couples and singles do when they’re out and about (that enough usage of “and” for ya?). The other side was a long open stretch of grass used for sports. There were a couple of soccer goals, one area where a basketball half-court was set up, and then a big open area where there was nothing but grass. It just called out for a makeshift baseball diamond.

We would get there early, usually on a Saturday, and throw out a diamond and start playing. Generally there were six or seven of us, so we’d just switch off guys hitting and pitching with everyone else shagging flies or scooping grounders. You’ve probably done this too. It was fun and of course there was no score (heck, there was no base running).

And of course we began to attract the locals. Guys would wander over to see what the “Crazy Americans” were doing. Commentary would follow in German. Most of us knew at least a little German (certainly enough to order a beer or start a conversation with a girl) and a couple of us knew it quite well, so we could tell the Germans were interested in what was going on, but couldn’t figure out how it all worked. A lot would head back over to the soccer field while the rest would continue checking out what you could do if you used the hands God gave you to play sports. Eventually this led to inviting them to join us and we’d try to teach them the game. It was great for us because we suddenly had 12 or 13 or 14 guys so we could actually play something like a game instead of just bat the ball around. We’d try to divide teams so that there were roughly an equal number of Americans and Germans on a team. It more or less worked. Eventually most of the German guys could catch some (we’d trade around gloves), could throw it in the right direction, could even swing the bat and make some contact. What they couldn’t do, was pitch.

One of the biggest loudmouths among the Germans was Gunther (he made sure we pronounced it Goon-tur, not Gun-thur). He was in his early 20s, a student at the local university, tall, lanky, and absolutely sure he’d figured out the game. He wasn’t bad, but Joe DiMaggio was in no danger of losing his place in the pantheon of American sport.  But Gunther decided he wanted to be Bob Gibson. So one day the Germans essentially announced they weren’t going to play if Gunther didn’t get to pitch (always wondered what he’d bribed them with).

It turned out that I hit second that day, so one of the other guys got first taste of Gunther on the mound (“Gunther on the Mound.” You could make a flick about something with that title, couldn’t you?).  He tried to mimic a windup, he tried to throw it hard, he tried to get it near the plate. Well, he got the first one pretty close, the second one he achieved, the third one became “God knows” baseball (God knows where the ball is going). He was wild, he was awful. We tried to convince him that no matter how hard you threw it, if it didn’t get anywhere near the plate it was still ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four, take your base. We didn’t have an umpire to actually call that, but after a handful of pitches we decided that it was a walk and the guy should go find the appropriate rubberized base.

That brought me up. The first pitch was high, but close to the plate. The second one actually bounced over the plate (we had to explain it still wasn’t a strike). Gunter was getting closer. The third pitch finally found a part of the plate and I hit the thing. It went right up the middle toward Gunther who had no chance of either catching it or ducking. Caught him right in the breadbasket. I ended up on first, the other guy hoofed it all the way to third while everyone just kind of stood there watching to see what would happen. Gunther went down in a heap, the ball rolled away, and we stopped play.

Gunther was alright, sore, but alright. We suggested he ought to maybe take an outfield spot until he felt better and let one of the other guys (an American) pitch. He agreed.

We finished the game, gathered up the equipment, stowed it in one of the cars, then wandered over to a local biergarten (beer garden), drank a few, had a few laughs, many at Gunther’s expense (he took it well), and headed back to our normal lives. The next Saturday we showed up again, laid out the field, had the Germans come over, and started a new game. Gunther was there as usual. He volunteered to play center field.

 

Making the World Safe for Baseball

May 1, 2012

 

Downtown Kassel, Germany

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.