If you have never played baseball, you may never be able to appreciate the sport like those who have. Softball doesn't count- the feel of the ball hitting the bat, catching a fly or a grounder... it's just different from hardball.
Some of my fondest memories as a kid were of playing baseball in the schoolyard behind my house. We never had eighteen kids to play at one time, so we used to make up games for as few as three players. One such game was called cutthroat, though we often played with four or six kids. The grass field at the schoolground bordered a fenced tennis court, and the chain link fence was about fifteen feet tall, perfect! It also had a horizontal steel tension bar halfway to the top, an ideal differentiator for doubles and triples.
We walked off a good distance from the base of the fence, usually about 200 paces, and set up our makeshift home plate with whatever we could find- a paper sack, a textbook, or maybe a bald spot in the grass. We then set up foul guides the same way. Any ball that went left of the left foul "pole," right of the right pole, or didn't make it to the imaginary line between them was a foul ball.
The team that was "up" had the bat and ball, the others took the field between the foul line and the back fence. Teams pitched underhand to themselves and we kept track of imaginary runners on bases by recounting after each at-bat. Runners were only forced forward by a single, double, triple or home run, never advancing otherwise, and never taking an extra base. Any ball caught by the fielding team by fly or grounder was out, as was any pop foul caught. If a ball got past the fielders to the fence on the ground, it was deemed a single. If a ball hit the fence on the fly it was either a double or triple, depending if it hit above or below the steel divider. A home run cleared the fence into the tennis courts, which, since we paced correctly, almost never happened.
One summer afternoon we were playing and my team was down by three with two outs in the 9th inning. I came to bat with the bases loaded, having not hit a home run all season. My good friend and teammate Scott Powell pitched to me and I hit a foul ball. Then something remarkable happened- I hit the next pitch but never felt the ball hit the bat. Now I know that I had hit it on the "sweet spot" of the bat, but that ball almost cleared the back fence on the other side of the courts. A grand slam that won the game? Absolutely exciting to a 14-year-old kid with asthma. But that was secondary to the memory of just hitting the ball so perfectly.
That was one of my favorite summers growing up- not yet in high school but old enough to do many things with my friends. Baseball filled our lives with activity, competitiveness and many, many memories.
Author, poet, photographer, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, sportsman,