Ball on Base
edited: Sunday, March 20, 2005
By William J Neven
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2005
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This is how our troops play the game overseas.
The young man at the front gate is not your usual parking lot attendant. You can tell by his beret, the battle fatigues he wears and the M-14 he carries.
For a few seconds, his eyes shift from you to your military ID and then back to you again. You joke that you're not Arab. If he gets it, he isn't laughing.
A few cars are being searched off to your left, their occupants waiting with arms crossed. Behind you, a line of vehicles stretches back to the main road.
As you drive through the base then, you pass a day care center, shoppette, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Hut, servicemen's quarters and an airplane museum. The planes are stationed facing one another outside and are from different eras. In the distance, you can see open-doored hangars that house today's fighter jets and bombers. The heavily-patrolled airfield is beyond them.
Turning left on red as is customary, you make sure to park far in back of the ten-foot high storm fence that encircles the ballfields. A few cars had been hit by fly balls the day before, you recall, one of which had shattered the passenger-side window of a compact, Japanese-style van.
Inside the park, itself, are four diamonds with a pillbox-sized refreshment stand and restroom facilities at their hub. Some native, Okinawan girls greet you with small, plastic cups which contain a bright, green liquid that has been poured over crushed ice. Each of them smiles and bows. You take a cup to be polite. Then you are handed a multi-colored flier that advertises long distance phone rates in both yen and American dollars. It almost makes it feel like home except that the drink has a markedly tea-like taste to it.
Coming up to the schedule board afterwards, you read that there are teams from not only here in Okinawa but also from South Korea, Guam, California, New England and Mainland Japan. They are composed of both men and women service people which have either descriptive names such as Ballbusters, Misfits and Diamonds; indicate their location as in Yokota Divas, Camp Humphreys and Torii Army Knights; or denote their military background which includes Docs-n-Jocs, 18th Command Squadron and Fighting Forty.
You next select a seat adjacent to your favorite team's dugout. The seats, themselves, are of a bleacher style, made of hard aluminum and have been built under canopies that are held in place by dangling sandbags. Wives of servicemen sit with babies in arms while imaginative girls with little dolls and big-eyed boys with squirt guns ignore the games altogether.
One young man beside you looks at them and confides that he had to leave his own wife behind at Camp Pendleton in California because she had given birth less than a month ago, and their new baby was yet too young to travel. He is in the Marines, he says, now stationed on base at Camp Lester.
There are a number of such bases on the island from all branches of the U.S. armed forces, you know. No one speaks of the horror that occurred here in World War II just as no one talks about the time they spent serving in the deserts of either Iraq, Kuwait or Qatar nor voices an opinion on the present situation in the Middle East. Besides, this was a time for fun not war.
Another fan, meanwhile, remarks that the middle-aged pitcher on the mound had suffered from heat stroke in last year's Labor Day weekend tournament. Still, here he is now, tossing the twelve-inch softball underhand, looking to be fit for a man his age and one, you speculate, who must have been a fine athlete when younger.
Later in the day, the kids start to become restless. One dust-shirted player foregoes his team's dugout between innings to play face games with his infant son in the stands. A young mother sips from a can of hot coffee she had bought from a vending machine nearby while she belaboredly rocks her own two babies in a stroller as she patiently waits and watches.
At one point, a little boy does a pratfall on the steel-grilled, sewer openings that are set in concrete on the walkways behind each diamond whereupon an older gentlemen quips, "There's no crying in baseball."
Neither the child nor his mother seem to appreciate his humor much.
By early evening, the wind has changed so that well-hit balls that had once sailed through the air are either sent soaring over the fences now on some diamonds or are seized - as if by some invisible force - and dragged back down to earth on others.
Players from teams that have been eliminated high-five their foes after each game. After all, though enemies on the ballfields, they are the best of friends on the battlefields.
As expected, the rains finally come, the hard-driving kind that gets everyone to scatter. Twenty minutes after that, one of the umpires - a sergeant major who most everyone seems to know - announces the championship games will be held tomorrow on Labor Day beginning at 9am, the same time that games had started today.
A young shortstop [who been carted off earlier that afternoon in an ambulance following a collision at home plate] returns on crutches once the skies have again cleared. He smiles when told the news, especially since his team - The Pacific Force - will be facing one called 'Yellow Box' in the finale.
[Ed. note: For the record, the remaining ball clubs were all from Okinawa in which The Pacific Force did indeed prevail in the men's bracket over Yellow Box, 22-11, whereas the TPS Diamonds bested the gals sponsored by Al's Place in the woman's by a score of 15-2.]
Reprinted from The Gulf Coast Writers Association - 2004