No one plays baseball anymore. Oh, I know there’s still Little League and the steroid-infested major leagues, but there is no baseball in the neighborhoods like we played when I was growing up. Back then, baseball was a true team sport. It was very difficult (and tiring) to play by yourself. Take my word, you need at least four people; two that can play the game.
At the crack of dawn, my friends and I would grab our gloves, our hats and our bats, say a quick bye to sleeping parents…”be back at…well, when I need to be fed”…and we were out the door. It wasn’t just about the game; it was about team building, and team building involved recruiting. Recruiting was a big part of neighborhood baseball. I didn’t know it then, but many of the business skills I use today were honed during the canvassing of the neighborhood we conducted on Saturday mornings as 11-year olds.
Knock knock…KNOCK KNOCK…yes…we need Billy…I’m sorry…we need Billy…or his ball…if he could bring it that would be great…or if you could give it to me, that would be great too…it’s 7:30 in the morning…yes, we’ll be over in the circle…at the end of Wyatt…tell Billy to get Charlie and Tommy…or their bats…is that a donut?
There was always an attempt to hustle up as many kids as we could, and hope that we could get at least four. We’d start with the regular gang; kids that typically played or had equipment we needed. Once in a while, non-baseball distractions would get in the way: chores, trips to Grandma’s, the fight between Charlie and Tommy at the last game. So there was a second (lower) tier of recruiting we initiated in desperation (kind of like making a new friend…one with a swimming pool). These were the bodies; no baseball skills necessary, but much harder to recruit.
Knock knock…KNOCK KNOCK…yes…Is the Geekster…I mean Marvin home?…It’s 7:35 in the morning…We need him to play baseball…we have a glove for him…Are you a friend of Marvin’s?…I sit behind him in math class…tell him we’re over in the circle…and tell him to bring Curtis and Royce…and his sister.
We didn’t have a baseball field. We played in the neighborhood…on the streets…at the end of a circle, between the houses. There were rules: 1. Off the Thomas’ roof – that’s a home run…no, the garage roof is only a triple. 2. If the ball gets stuck under the Donovan’s car, that’s a ground-rule double. 3. Play stops for all on-coming cars…except for old man Brooks…heh heh (we sure did annoy him). Once in a while, Christy Conklin, sweet 16 with a learner’s permit, would drive by, and play would be suspended as we all gathered around…Hi Christy, you sure do look nice behind the wheel…oh, hi Mr. Conklin. Play ball!
Neighborhood ball had its risks. We knew it and we accepted it. We had another rule. While roofs were “home runs”, broken windows were “run homes”…fast! Between the regulars there was an understanding…don’t get caught…and if you did…blame it on Curtis, Royce…or his sister.
We didn’t break windows. We didn’t use regular baseballs. Right after the “Sweeney Dog Incident, we used tennis balls. There was no dog incident…I just made that up. It really came down to that we were young and didn’t carry enough insurance. But tennis balls worked just fine for us. Despite our recruiting, we seldom had enough players…or bodies. The catcher was always a propped up board, with tape indicating a rectangular strike zone. Where there were players, regular baseball rules applied…you hit the ball in the air and someone catches it, you’re out. If you hit the ball on the ground, they throw it to someone who tags you before reaching the base, you’re out.
And then there were the neighborhood rules. If you hit the ball and you’re running to a base without a player minding it, any player on the opposing team can bean you with the ball before you reach the base, and you’re out. Sometimes you got beaned after you reached the base, which often lead to a fight and someone not playing in the next game…and so it went. Neighborhood baseball built character.
At the end of the day, we returned the equipment, Curtis and Royce…and his sister…and we went home. We played almost every weekend in the spring, summer, and fall, unless we had chores, a trip to Grandma’s, or were in a fight the previous game. We played through Middle School, a little in High School, and then not at all. Winter and growing up sure do suck!
P.S. I married Christy. Hi Mr. Conklin…heh heh. Play ball!