One of the fondest memories of my career in the United States Navy, was during the early 1970’s when I served aboard the U.S.S. Charles F. Adams (DDG-2.) “DDG” is the Navy’s designation for a guided-missile destroyer. I was the Adams’ Chief Signalman.
The Adams spent several months assigned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization command (N.A.T.O.) During our N.A.T.O. assignment, we traveled and operated with destroyers and frigates from other N.A.T.O. countries including Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Portugal. Our ports of call included Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Dutch Indies island of Curacao, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Chief Petty Officers of the various ships became very friendly, and (mostly) overcame our language differences during our many social engagements while we were in port together. The British ship, HMS Aurora, crew included a chief whose duties included arranging sports events for those times when the ships were not at sea. In an attempt to create camaraderie among the various country’s chiefs, he set up a day of sports for us in each port of call. Of course, we “Yanks” didn’t know much about cricket, the Brits didn’t know the rules of baseball, the Germans didn’t have a clue about American football, and nobody could figure out what the Portuguese sailors knew because they spoke little English, and none of us spoke Portuguese. However, we all had one language in common. All of us fully understood the sailor’s international language– beer drinking to excess. We became great friends over kegs, bottles, and cans of beer. We even managed to find some time to play some sports.
So, during a hot day in San Juan, what started out to be a softball game, evolved into a game of “beer ball.” Beer ball is a lot like softball but requires base runners to down a bottle of beer at each base before proceeding to the next one. Someone got the idea (I think it was one of the Canadians) that runners could be tackled between bases so that they could be held down while the ball was retrieved to tag them out. I’m not sure anybody kept score. However, it was great fun, and we always looked forward to our next port to play (and drink beer) again. It wasn’t long before many of us earned nicknames.
I remember during one game, when I was at-bat, the “bowler” (in true international spirit, we were calling pitchers “bowlers” and catchers “Wicket Keepers” by this time) threw me three pitches well outside the strike zone, and un-hittable. The next pitch was a slow arching lobbed ball eye-level height right over the plate. I really laid into this fat pitch and smashed it. When I hit it, the object exploded sending pulp, seeds, and grapefruit juice all over me, the catcher, and anyone else within ten feet. Between pitches, the pitcher had switched a peeled grapefruit for the softball. The peeled grapefruit was as white as the softball, and just the right size to look like a softball. What a shock! Of course, everybody roared with laughter. From that day forward, I was known as Al “Grapefruit” Forrest to everyone in the NATO squadron.
Here is one of our softball team rosters. (Note: you can click on THIS to download a .pdf copy that may be a little more readable. However, I scanned an old mimeograph of that roster, so its showing its age.)
If any of my old teammates (or opponents) should be reading this, I would love to hear from you.
The chiefs from the Canadian ship, HMCS Skeena, hoped that we would travel to Canada on the cruise. They kept telling us they wanted to teach us how to play broom ball. We never made it to Canada in the winter, so I never learned to play broom ball. I think it is similar to hockey, but played on the ice without skates and with brooms instead of hockey sticks. It probably would have been fun provided there was plenty of beer to keep us warm.
Written on March 31, 2006, by Allen W. Forrest
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