December 30, 2009

First off, let me apologize for the lack of blog posts recently. I’ve been trying to figure out how to work this new website. Plus the holidays, family stuff, etc. You get the drift.

Anyway, I got this book for Christmas called The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. I can’t give you a full review yet, but so far so good. It’s the story of a boy growing up in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970’s. There are some great descriptions of neighborhood stoopball games including this one where Dylan (the boy) gets his first hit.

Stickball in Havana by Walter Iooss.

Stickball in Havana by Walter Iooss.

You evolved in full view and secretly at once, grew bony and hairy, twisted out a baby tooth and spat blood and kept playing, claimed to know certain words the first time you heard them. A day came when you made contact, stung it somewhere not foul, rounded first before the bat clattered to stillness in the street. It was no big thing, you weren’t looking for congratulations. Dylan danced off on the manhole cover, second base, daring the throw, the next order of business. Reward for trickling the ball between Alberto’s feet. Leading off, batting one thousand.

He scored on Mingus Rude’s own home run. Struck out hyperventilating his next time up. But. Five kids in a batting order and no defense to speak of, you’d get up a hundred times on a night like this. Strike out ninety. Lace it off a lamppost and call it a triple, didn’t matter-you could
bunt a triple in the dark. The close of the day you’d resist like sleep, like sickness. One kid’s mom yelled for half an hour and even then nobody else paid attention, nobody went inside.

I love it. What a great couple paragraphs. Raise your hand if you felt just like this. I sure did. Those hundred at-bat days were the foundation of my baseball career and are the foundations of all the “less fortunate” kids in third world countries who are dominating the big leagues these days.

I’ll take one of those hundred at-bat, no pressure, no parent, making up the game as we went along, imitating George Brett, imitating Eddie Murray, imitating Ted Williams, learning how to hit the ball away from the “closed” field, no umpire, days over any four at-bat day I ever had playing organized Little League.

So many great things came from those days. So much baseball development….without the stress of having to perform or succeed or impress. Pure fun. Pure repetitions. Pure and simple baseball.

I know it’s a different world now. Pushing kids out the door and having them come back when the street lights come on isn’t really an option any more. But there’s got to be a way to facilitate this kind of ball, isn’t there? This might end up being my New Year’s resolution. To provide a place where kids can play pick up ball. Nobody watching, nobody judging, and no umps (figure it out amongst yourselves.) Maybe one adult – not allowed to watch the game….only there to make sure the area remains safe.

Would anyone show up? I’ll keep you posted.

5 Responses to “Stickball”

  1. [...] Remembering the Days of Stickball By Mike Silva ~ December 31st, 2009. Filed under: Mike Silva. Brent Mayne takes a walk down memory lane over at his site The Art of Catching. [...]

  2. Gerry says:

    Oh man, do I remember those days. Playing pick-up slow pitch all summer long. Nothin’ to hide, nothin’ to prove, nothin’ to lose. Just like you wrote, no umpires and no parents meant no pressure, no stress, just pure fun.

    But those were the days when no one’s parents ever drove them anywhere and we played on a vacant lot using pieces of cardboard for bases. Seems to me some of us shared our gloves and for sure only a couple kids brought bats.

    Today, parents shlepp their kid’s everywhere and there’s no end to the $$s some will spend ensuring little Jill or Johnney has the best equipment, lessons and “playing experience”. And are the ball fields by you posted with “no trespassing” signs as they are by me.

    Ironic, isn’t it? With all the organization, attention and expense, betcha’ there’s only a few kids in the country today that have as much fun just playing as we had playing for free.

    All we need are more open fields (if not ball fields) where “trespassing” is encouraged. Kids will come (if their parents will let them). Wonder if other kids now playing organized ball would like to play pick-up games. Or here’s a thought – what about fathers (and mothers) too? It would be so much fun to get the parents out of the stands and onto the ball field. OK, it would be so much fun for ME to get out of the stands and play a little ball with my son.

  3. Brent Mayne says:

    Well put Gerry! Thanks for your comments.

  4. [...] of time, you know that I’m a big fan of kids playing¬†unstructured baseball. Sandlot ball, stick ball, stoop ball, 3 flies up, over the line, whatever…just so long as it doesn’t come with a [...]

  5. [...] Here are some games that I used to play when I was younger. Just about all of them followed the general rules of baseball (3 outs, baselines, pop fly caught is an out, etc.) The ball could be anything, from rolled up socks, to a ball of tape, to a tennis ball or real baseball. The bat could be a real bat or a tennis racket or a stick. Gloves were optional. Rules were important and much of the time was spent figuring them out and making them adapt to the surroundings. Depending on the field, there were certain places you couldn’t hit the ball. Picking teams was an art and feelings got hurt because the worst players aways get picked last, that’s life. Bending the rules for the new kid happened. Arguments happened. Lost balls happened. Broken windows happened. Ghost runners existed. Spitting was perfected, grass stains on the knees…you get the picture. [...]

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