Do kids play unorganized sports, anymore?

Baseball is a game in which the best fail 7 times out of 10. The best NFL quarterbacks *succeed* at that rate. Therein lies the pivotal distinction between baseball and football. That and the fact that baseball is played by normal sized human beings.

You could be siting on a plane next to an all star pitcher and you’d have no idea what he did for a living. Maybe a career in sales. Or software. But sit next to a 300 lb black man and every white person in America will think to themselves, “who does he play for”?

This is also the definition of white privilege. We assume a large black man or a buff young black man is an athlete. The best among us will silently chastise ourselves for so effortlessly falling into that stereotype. The worst will actually ask the man who he plays for, hoping maybe for an autograph.

Donald Trump would be that man. White men are leaders. Movers and shakers in finance and industry. Black men play ball and keep the white men entertained. I don’t actually believe Trump is racist in the sense that he dislikes African Americans, as such. I just don’t think he thinks about that community one way or the other. To the extent he thinks about them at all, he only knows they are Democrats and oppose him. They are “other”. They aren’t his people.

To men like that, White men are generals. Black men make good sergeants, like Louis Gosset, Jr., in An Officer and a Gentleman. They’re good fighters and swear a lot.

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder once famously said that Blacks “lacked some of the natural abilities” to be good NFL quarterbacks. He went on to also explain why Blacks, in his opinion, weren’t good swimmers. I believe it was something about “sinking too fast”. His career sunk after that interview faster than one of his Black swimmers.

The World Series and an episode of NCIS got me thinking of baseball. My hometown Nationals got swept in DC to be on the verge of losing the Series. But in baseball there is always hope, especially when you have your two best pitchers rested and ready for games 6 and 7.

The NCIS episode featured a scene at the end where Gibbs was playing catch with a boy from across the street who was living with his single mom. Gibbs had bought the boy a new glove because he was using one that he wore on his throwing hand.

That scene tore me up. So many complex emotions came bursting forth at once. I still remember one time playing catch with my dad in the backyard of his mom’s. There may have been others, but I wasn’t raised by my dad so our times were fleeting.

When my girls were young they sometimes would play catch with me. As they got older I tried to get them to, to no avail. Living in a house full of girls who weren’t terribly interested in sports had its drawbacks. My dogs didn’t even want to play catch with me. (“Paging Dr. Rodney Dangerfield. Dr. Dangerfield to Psychiatry please.”)

Now I have a grandson. Maybe I’ll live long enough to play catch with him. Maybe he’ll want to.

I was smart, witty, and eager to please; traits that made me popular with teachers but also the target of bullies. The fact that I was tall, rail thin, and wore the wrong sneakers didn’t help. I’ve said it before: how I ever lost my virginity remains one of those mysteries of the universe.

I wanted to be a great athlete. I loved baseball. I loved basketball. I just wasn’t very good. We played a version of baseball we called “mushball” (pronounced “mooshball”). We had four guys from the apartments who would play ball. Two brothers, Kenny and Bobby, myself, and a fourth whom we would try to scrounge up from whoever was available. That’s all we had, so we played mushball, two to a side.

The game worked like this. With two players to a side we had a pitcher and one fielder. The batting team supplied the catcher, who also called balls and strikes. If the batted ball was caught by the fielder or the pitcher it was an out. Whether it was a single, double, triple or a homer in depended upon how far it traveled in the air. A homer had to be hit over the hedge at the end of the area in which we played.

Ah. Where we played was the Best Products parking lot on Parklawn Drive. There was an area where people rarely parked and we used that to play. Surprisingly no one ever gave us a hard time for playing there. This was the early 1970’s so no one cared. The fact that we played on a parking lot and only employed a single outfielder meant we pretty much had one “field”. Any ball hit to what would normally be left or right field, was foul.

Now the most important part. We used a tennis ball. This was actually the best part. First, a ball that hit a car wouldn’t do any damage. Second, on that pavement it bounced in a very satisfactory manner and was generally undamaged, whereas a baseball would not last a week during our summer. But the best reason for using a tennis ball: we could pitch it as hard as we wished and, as the catcher had no protective gear, no one was going to get hurt. That, and the batter’s life was not placed in peril. As pitchers, we weren’t exactly Greg Maddux. We really had no idea where that ball was going and the catcher regularly got plenty of exercise from having to run after a ball that got by him only to roll 25 yards and end up lodged under a car. Wrigley Field has its ivy. We had ‘68 Pontiacs and Plymouths.

Kenny and Bobby and I also collected baseball cards. I still have mine, but that’s for another blog post.

I did play pick up football in the fall. I actually held my own, even though I was so skinny they also used me to measure for first downs. Because I was tall and had a long stride, I developed a technique where I could decoy the quarterback while was as playing in the secondary. He would think my guy was open and would throw. In order to get the ball the required distance to the open receiver he had to throw on an arc and the ball would remain aloft for what seemed like days. Sometimes it would come down with bird poop on it from where they had roosted the night before. In the time the ball was in was in the air, I would quickly close on my receiver and performing geometry in my head worthy of Wile E. Coyote, I would step in front of the receiver for the interception. I would then get pummeled (touch football was for pussies) but it was worth it.

Do kids today still play games like these? Baseball with two on a side because that’s all you had? Pick up tackle football?

I played one year of little league baseball. I don’t recall my mom attending any games. She would have been at work. I got one hit all season. (Not that I had many at bats). Organized sports were expensive. But games with your friends were free, even if as organized as the Trump Foreign Policy.

Maybe I should start playing softball again. Find a 50 and over league. I enjoyed playing when we lived in NH. Anything to get off my increasingly lazy ass.

I would do anything to recapture some of the innocence of my childhood. It was not easy. It was at times quite lonely. But at times it was joyful and carefree when the most we had to worry about was not reaching under a recently parked (hot) car to retrieve an errant ball.

About Life Along the Edge

In my 50's, I'm enough to remember the first Apollo landing. I'll eventually forget it, or worse, decide it was all a conspiracy done on a Hollywood sound stage. Most of the rest you need to know about me you can discern from my writing. Other important stuff: I have one wife and three daughters. I live in Arizona. I love seafood and being outdoors. But, most importantly, I'm on a journey following Jesus. God leads, I do a shitty job following. He's patient with me. I pray you will be too. Grace and Peace, David
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