Mighty Casey the Contra Steps Up to Bat

Nicaragua is a baseball-mad nation and the contras are no less so than their Sandinista countrymen. On a recent sunny afternoon in a camp in Honduras, the contras were winding their way on to yet another league championship series.

By the top of the fifth inning it was clear that the visitors from the Jorge Salazar II Regional Command were going to have a long walk home. Already losing 4-1 to the Segovia Regional Command, the visitors watched warily as the home team's power hitter stepped to the plate.

``Franconero'' handed his 9mm pistol to a friend and stayed outside the batter's box a moment to stare down the pitcher.

The Segovia side erupted in chatter: ``He's afraid, he's afraid!'' Franconero took the first pitch looking, and offered a Cheshire-cat smile to the hoots from the away team.

The second pitch cracked off his bat and sailed into a mass of tents. Franconero ambled around the bases and tipped his camoflagued hat to the pitcher before contemptuously stomping on home plate.

The contras have 20 teams in their league - each one representing one of the contras regional commands, whose troops have little to do these days but play ball.

And like the food they receive from the United States government, the contras' equipment is finer than would be found on any Nicaraguan team below the big leagues: steel bats, Spaulding gloves, and full catcher's gear.

``We play ball every day, volleyball, baseball. It's a lot better than marching,'' said ``Jaime,'' a contra on the sidelines.

``It's good for the health too.''

The favorite for this year's championship?

Special Operations Command.

``They won last year too. Unbeatable,'' Franconero said.

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