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Sandlot ball: Less competitive, more fun

By Staff | Aug 6, 2010

Recently, I went to a little league game and watched a bunch of kids play their hearts out for seven innings. It reminded me of playing baseball when I was young.

Organized baseball for youngsters today has its good points and in some ways it also has its bad points. The good points include the equipment they use, the diamonds they play on and the help that’s there if the players run into trouble, such as getting hit by a pitch or jamming a leg as they race to second base.

Some of the downers are the competition they face, the crowd reaction if they make an error and how some of the parents react to the umpires calls. I have seen fathers berate there children in public for “not playing well.”

When I first played ball as a child I think I was around 9. We played in empty lots or even sometimes in the street. We would sometimes play all day, taking a break now and then for a hot dog or ice-cream. Sometime we played until it was too dark to see the ball. Sometimes the score of the games would resemble a football score, something like 21 to 20. Sometimes when we played older kids the score would 21 to zip. The bats were never new; they were all made of wood. Some were in good condition and others had breaks in them that we would tack together or tape the bat back together. The balls were not only second hand, sometimes the covers were gone and we would wrap the ball in black plumbing tape. There were no uniforms or baseball shoes known as cleats.

Most of us had baseball hats that we had gotten at school or at other ball games. We had a catcher’s mitt that looked like it had been used in the 1920s. Both sides used the same mitt. A lot of the gloves were hand-me-downs that were held together with shoestrings. My glove’s web was held together with staples glue and shoestrings.

The teams were chosen by choosing sides, this was done by one person tossing a bat to his opponent. The bat would be caught by the barrel and each person would place his hands above the other until they reached the knob of the bat. Whoever could hold the bat by the knob picked first and sides were chosen. The worst feeling was being chosen last. Everybody got to play. Sometimes there be a long right fielder and a short right fielder.

A flip of a coin decided who would bat first. There were no umpires. Balls and strikes were not called. A person either hit or struck out swinging. If a player hit three foul balls, he was out. Sometimes a batter would watch 10 pitches go by before he would swing.

The games were long sometimes lasting most of the afternoon. We played nine innings and, except for darkness calling the game, there were no ties. Now and then people would stop and watch us, but most of the time there was just us. If an error was committed nothing was said.

Some of the players were better than others, and it was a factor in choosing sides. Some of the players played organized ball for church teams or the boys club, but when we played it was the rules we made up that counted.

After the game we would all go to the market and by potato chips, ice-cream and Cokes. When we got home after a game the first thing my mother would ask was if I got hurt. My father wanted to know if my team won.

After dinner I would get out my cigar box full of baseball cards and my dad and I would put on the radio and later the TV to listen to the Senators ball game. That is the way the summers went when I was young. Swimming in the river, movies on Saturday afternoons and most days, except for rain, we played baseball.