Time Out: April 18, 2012

My wish for every youngster would be that they discover the wonders of the backyard. It might simply be the joy of being outside breathing in the fresh air and enjoying their natural environment. It might be the miniature zoo of unique and fascinating insects and ‘bugs’ that captures their fancy. Perhaps it’s the flora found there that sparks their interest and lets the imagination run wild. Better yet, the backyard might become a shape changer; a jungle, a pirate ship, the frontier, a racetrack, the sandlot, as many enchanting venues as the imagination can create.

Sandlot baseball
Ah, sandlot baseball. I wonder how many modern day kids have ever played sandlot baseball or even know what it means? I stretch the purist definition of sandlot baseball to include any useable track of land not intended for use as a sports venue that is transformed by eager enthusiasts for the purpose of playing baseball. Parks, parking lots, cornfields, vacant lots, city streets, and, of course, backyards, all qualify as sandlots. With imagination and ingenuity each setting magically transforms into the pristine playing field at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field or the major league ballpark of your choice.

Ponder those days when first base was the porch side of the lilac bush, second base the corner of the chicken coop, third base the stump where once stood a tall oak tree, and home plate the corner stone of the walkway. Abandoned bedsprings might be propped upright to stop an errant pitch as a backstop. Wheelbarrow loads for dirt from alongside the stream made an imposing pitching mound. Mix a bit of ingenuity with some spunk, some pluck, and a bit of elbow grease, and any sandlot could be reshaped into a field of dreams.

And, oh, how the grand old game was played. When the last snows had vanished like awakening hibernating bears, kids gathered. No one stayed indoors. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, it was a full 154 game schedule (it was 154, not 162 major league games back then) or more.

Learning about life
No parent or adult supervision, no umpires, slowed you down. Kids learned life skills of negotiation and conflict resolution on their own. There was no need for uniforms and fancy equipment just a healthy dose of enthusiasm, active imaginations, unending bickering and squabbling, a ton of wild and crazy baseball and what seemed, at that time, like unending fun.

Remember when the two guys choosing teams would place their hands in an alternating pattern up the bat until there was just enough space for one to pry his fingers around the knob of the bat and hold it upright that way? The other ‘captain’ would then kick the bat as hard as he could manage. If the bat flew from the holder’s fingers the kicker got first pick. If not, the bat holder got the first crack at the no-cost draft. Another tradition lost to time.
“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…”