I went to watch my seven-year-old grandson’s baseball game last night. After two seasons of T-ball, he had advanced to a machine-pitch league. His team lost this game, but the coach awarded him the game ball for his efforts!
Watching this game made me think about my own youth baseball experience. I never played in an organized league while growing up. But on my block alone, I had enough friends my age to field two teams to play either on the street or the “ball field.”
The street game required little equipment. We played with a pink rubber ball and a bat. Bases were manhole covers, car bumpers, and sewer drains. We hit single-bounce pitches. The game’s added challenges included traffic, homes on each side of the street, and the unforgiving asphalt surface. When we could only round up eight or nine kids, this was the game we played.
When we had fifteen or more, we played at the ball field, a quick bike ride to a huge vacant lot behind the development where my family moved when I was eight years old. For this game we had gloves, baseballs, and wooden bats. Bases were flat rocks or pieces of wood we found lying around. We used pitchers, but no one threw very hard, so there were hardly any strikeouts. We played a lot of games, especially throughout the summer.
The challenges of this game included a pretty rough field surface. You had to have very quick reactions when ball bounced off holes and rocks in the dirt and grass that wasn’t cut very often. A foul ball into the woods might mean the end of the game if we couldn’t find it. Every once in a while, someone would tag one and it would reach one of the bordering homes. I don’t think we ever caught a window, but we bounced a few off the roof. A few of my friends were pretty good. Only one of them played Little League, beyond the means of most of our families.
It was a good place to hone some skills. Enough that I could later play some college intramural and later, church league softball. I also remember the names of most of the kids and adults I played with. Baseball was really good for developing friendships. Plus, once you’ve played, baseball is much more entertaining to watch, from the major leagues to a local machine-pitch rec league.