Monday, July 20, 2009

Big League Wiffle Ball Battle in Baghdad

As fate would have it, the Midwest Managers of Big League Wiffle Ball were able to link up in Baghdad for some wiffle ball. The July 2009 sandstorms relented during their window of opportunity and out came the yellow bat and wiffle strike zone.

While Cory Newmann warmed up his pitching arm, his teammates built the field and worked in some batting practice. The intense heat of the afternoon had cooled into the low 100's. Cory Newmann, Kevin David, Eric “The Tank” Frank, and Nathan Van Gheem were going against Ben Biddick, Tim Connolley, and Krystal Gotz.

The batters box was carved in gravel and overshadowed by the thin shade of a pair of palm trees. The single and double lines were marked off by bottled water. The homerun line consisted of massive blast walls. They loomed at the end of the field like a tan version of Fenway's green monster.

Ben Biddick began his pitching assault. After some solid introductory innings, the hitting prowess of Cory Newmann's team began taking advantage of small mistakes. Some waning control produced some serious homeruns including one by Cory Newmann (which is the longest recorded homerun on the Baghdad field to date). Kevin David added one to the scoreboard, and Nathan Van Gheem had a solid performance.

After three outs, Cory Newmann took his place at the pitcher's line and began working his game. Tim Connolley generated a pair of homeruns, sending in runners put on base by Krystal Gotz. Biddick popped a pair of triples to contribute to a lead that they hoped would hold out through the bottom of the final inning.

The teams continued to battle in the fading light of day. Frank “The Tank” stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the final inning. They were down by two runs, and the bases were loaded. It was all on his shoulders. Biddick hoped he could sneak in a riser under the cover of darkness. The sun had already gone down, and it was becoming difficult to see the ball. He was one strike away from victory.

Biddick unleashed the pitch. Frank “The Tank” committed. He crushed the ball. The tiny white comet landed somewhere beyond the blast walls, and the game was over. Grand slam.

The following night, Biddick, Connolley, and Gotz were looking to avenge their loss. Connolley, who had been working on his pitching, warmed up his arm. Newmann, Van Gheem, and The Tank worked in some batting practice. Kevin David was on administrative leave due to a contract dispute.

For the first innings, Connolley dominated the strike zone. Van Gheem fought through the onslaught and managed to smack a triple. Connolley quickly shut down a short scoring run after two runs.

Cory Newmann began working his knuckle ball with solid results, but Biddick, Connolley, and Gotz managed a two run lead by the time they entered the final inning.

After a series of base hits, the inning closed with Connolley, Biddick, and Gotz facing a one run deficit. The memory of the prior evening's loss still raw in their minds, Biddick leaned in and cracked a base hit. Gotz gave the strike zone a tap as she entered the batter's box and got to work. After a series of foul balls, Gotz sent one down the right field line for a double. Connolley stepped to the plate and readied himself for the pitch.

Connolley swung. The crack of the plastic shattered the hopes of their opponents as the wiffle ball ricocheted off the blast walls for a triple, scoring two runs. The hit claimed victory in the second and final game of the two night series.

A show of sportsmanship followed as they shook hands and broke down the field. MRAPs and Humvees growled as they drove by. They were heading out on missions that put the final American touches on a liberation of Iraq from tyrannical rule.

American friendships begun decades ago never foresaw that they would find a pocket of time to play their favorite game in this foreign land. A country that during those same decades languished under a tyrannical rule, now hastens toward stability and a future of asserting its collective, national will on the international stage. They are a resilient people struggling to unite internal sworn enemies from multiple ethnic, cultural, geographical, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds. Under internal and international pressures, they face the agony of countless wounds and immeasurable losses. They face tyrannical insurgents hoping to undermine and intimidate Iraqi gains with crowd-killing car bombs. They face neighboring nations who seek to exploit their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They face danger on every side, a danger that burns away in the brilliant light of freedom, in the sweet breath that oxygenates a collective identity, and the glory of possessing the right to exist as a sovereign nation.

As the soldiers walk back to their housing units, their footsteps crunch through gravel where their fellow soldiers once sweat, bled, and died in order to give a gift of liberation to the Iraqi people. The horizon swallows the sun. The stars shimmer above the whirring helicopter blades. They have played an iconic American game and passed a pair of hours in the tenuous, unfolding creation of democracy in the Middle East.

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