Softball Overseas Part II
On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Within a year of completing the Cape Verde assignment, Footloose Forester was selected to serve as Senior Forestry Advisor for a USAID project in Haiti. His interest in softball came up within a few days of arrival. And within a couple of weeks the Footloose Forester was playing third base on a team of enthusiasts who mostly consisted of other USAID or project-related players. As usual, there were seldom enough players to go around so teams were most often made up on the spot. In Haiti we had the advantage of a well-circulated newsletter to get the word out about forming a team or two, or even a softball league. Not that there was so much cooperation and enthusiasm to cover all aspects of softball league organization. The Principal at Union School in downtown Port-au-Prince made us an offer we could not refuse; use of their field each Saturday, and access to a lawn mower to keep the field trimmed. As he recalls, Footloose Forester made all the contacts with the school officials.
And he almost always mowed the field himself, without help, in the event that the designated person from the school did not, which was usually the case. It took about 2-3 hours to mow the grass, so he checked the condition of the field the night before the games and showed up on Saturday mornings to do the job before the start of the games at about 2 PM. He was not shy about asking for help, but he seldom got that help. That was another reason he was the team captain: nobody else wanted the job, or wanted to take responsibility to prepare the field; or make up team rosters. Truth be known, if he didn’t make up the rosters himself, he might not have had the chance to play third base, even after spending three hours cutting the grass before some of the games.
As word spread of the softball games at the Union School grounds on Saturdays, more and more new faces starting showing up. Quite a few of them were Dominicans, since baseball is very popular in the Dominican Republic. It finally got to the point where our teams of American regular players challenged the Dominicans to regular competitions. Despite the diffident talk about how most of us were old geezers (Footloose Forester called his team the Geritols), and they were mostly young bucks, we seldom lost to them. As was the case in other places, we sometimes had one or two young American Marines on the team. Not that they could not be beaten, either. In later years, the Footloose Forester was on a team in Kenya that usually beat the regular US Marine team. Not bragging--, just remembering.
The Union School field became a refugee camp after the devastating eathquake in Haiti in January 2010. Nearly all of the open spaces in Port-au-Prince were turned in refugee camps after the earthquake, as witnessed on satellite photos taken a few days later.
In his later playing days, Footloose Forester was a pitcher most of the time. He still sought to play third base and still had a strong enough arm to make accurate throws to first base, but in Kenya we had a team captain who never gave up his title or authority, so Footloose Forester played wherever he was assigned. Since the team was usually short on pitching skills that meant that he was usually tapped to pitch. Others positions included second base, catcher and even first base. It most often depended upon who showed up, or didn’t show up. Not that the team captain/coach wouldn’t pull you out if you didn’t perform well enough.
One time in Kenya the Footloose Forester remembers starting a game as pitcher but was pulled quickly after walking two batters in a row. The captain himself took over the pitching chores and walked 10 batters that day. Our team still managed to win, however, and the Footloose Forester remembers enjoying the substitution to second base where he also executed a single-handed double play. That other team wasn't that good, ever. We just called them the Japanese, since every team member was a Japanese national. But only one of them was a great athlete, so we beat them most of the time.
The regulars of the USAID softball team, Nairobi, Kenya 1991
Our team was known as USAID, and composed of players from the offices of the Agency for International Development, and a handful of USAID contractors, of which the Footloose Forester was one. One other group came around to the ball field at the International School of Kenya: the cricket players from South Africa. They all knew how to bat but they soon discovered that their defensive play lost them every game. After only a few games they decided to abandon the softball.
The final chapter in the softball memoirs was written on the day after his 56th birthday, when the Footloose Forester started and won his game as the soon-to-be departed pitcher. His present goal is to remain active enough to qualify for the Tampa Bay Cubbies, a team in Florida that requires its players to be a minimum of 70 years of age. His arm tells him that he can still qualify as a third baseman. Now at 73 years young, he is still looking for a game.