Long before PlayStation, video games, and 400-cable television stations occupied the time of a teenager, it was the time of sweltering monotonous
sun, and new friendships. Indiana
It was the early 70’s; my parents were divorced. Mom had just remarried, and we moved to town. We were pleased to find the neighborhood was loaded with kids. It didn’t take long to realize there were guys who liked to play baseball. The caps indicated their favorite teams. Taking a quick census I noted four Reds, four Cardinals, and one lone Braves fan in the mix. When they found out that my favorite team was the Cubs there was a collective sigh. The kind of uncomfortable sigh you might get when someone finds out you recently lost a loved one.
The call came early in the morning (9:30 is really early for a 12 year-old). It started with a simple “you guys wanna play some ball?” My brother told me to get my glove: We were invited to the pick-up game.
I donned my beat Cubs cap, and well worn-out Cubs t-shirt, while my brother wore his Pittsburgh Pirates t-shirt. We wanted to show these town boys that we were serious ballplayers. I grabbed the Mickey Mantle model my dad had given us: We were sporting the “latest technology” as aluminum bats were called.
On the way to Mr. Anderson’s field they informed us it was best to get in a couple of games before it was too hot to play. There were 12 or 14 of us with bats slung over our shoulders, and gloves on our hands. Mr. Anderson’s field was actually was a very large well-manicured lawn. He informed us with a kind but stern demeanor that we would have to alternate home plate as not to wear bare spots in his yard. We accepted his terms.
Big Mike still suffered from the near-miss in the spring. He had launched a line drive down the right-field line, and straight through the window of Widow Jones. They were certain he had killed her. Worse off he had to cut her lawn all summer to pay for the damages.
The neighborhood rules were addressed. The most important ground rule was the pitcher’s hand. You had to get to first before the pitcher got the ball in his glove. Hitting into the stand of trees was considered a home run. To this day I don’t think anyone got close. I would find out that it was a ritual to address the ground rules before the games could start.
And then came the time to address the picking of teams. The guys looked at me and my brother with suspicion as to whether we possessed any ability. On that first day, we were picked second to last. A couple of brothers without gloves or bats were picked after us.
We played until the sun became unbearable and called it quits for another day. We would walk a couple of blocks to the neighborhood grocery. While enjoying a cold soda or an ice cream, we discussed the prowess of our game, made fun of each other, and swooned over the high school girls who were regular sunbathers in our neighborhood. In a short time though the girls, cars, and jobs would win over playing ball...