We would, and it was almost always spontaneous, go up to The Field, which later was given a name but to us was always the field, with a bat or two and a ball. We almost never had a new ball. The baseball would be used, a bit worn, with grass stains and probably a loose stitch or two, sometimes more, so that it had be taped up. Maybe it was a bit lopsided but, as long as you could throw it, hit it, try to field it, it was fun. We might have to share gloves. A catcher’s mitt was a rarity. I had two brothers who were catchers, George and Tommy. They were real ballplayers, not pretenders like us, and I remember that Tommy had a real catcher’s mitt that was hidden away in what was called a cupboard but wasn’t really a cupboard. It was a cabinet two steps down the stairs to the cellar where several forbidden items were held. There was a clean baseball in its pocket and a belt wrapped around it to keep it from losing its pocket.
The same cabinet also contained a totally off limits BB gun, a rifle that I took out and played with if I thought no one could see me. The same cabinet also once held a 7-Up bottle that one day made me curious enough in my thirst and love for the taste of 7-Up to uncork and sample only to realize with a shock that it actually contained some white lightning that my father had stashed.
It would be me and my brother Jimmy and probably two or three Fulkersons, Dicky and Patty and Bobby. If you had enough guys, you played a game. Maybe you only had 16 guys, so right field would be closed. Maybe you only had 14 guys, so the backstop would be the catcher. You didn’t have a mitt anyway. The backstop was frequently in need of repair, so there were a lot of passed balls. The batter would be throwing the ball back to the pitcher, so if he wasn’t liking the pitches very much he could find a way to let the pitcher know that. Maybe the same guy would pitch to both teams, ’cause he could get it over.
This was ball as I knew it. Maybe you only had a half dozen guys, so you played 21, or work up. Catch a ball in the air, 7 points. One hopper on the bounce, 5 points. Stop a grounder, 3 points. Miss one and you go in the hole, same points. You could be out there all fuckin’ day.
Everybody played catch to warm up. But hitting the ball, that was the thing. Anybody that says that they don’t like swinging a stick at a moving rock and trying to hit it from here to Spain has never tried it.
Sometimes we arrived at the field to find a game already in progress being played by the big guys. The big guys were older, better players already in their teens who looked upon us with disdain for the most part. So we couldn’t play until they were finished, perhaps having to go and deliver their newspaper routes or some other task or maybe just being tired after three or four games and wanting to smoke cigarettes. If they found themselves short a player or two they might condescend to put one of us in the game. Usually Jimmy would be the first chosen because they knew he was the best of us but Patty and I would normally just watch since we were both a year younger than Jimmy and not nearly as skilled. Watching did not hold our attention for long but it enabled us to learn some of the lingo that was so important, like how to taunt the batter while you were in the field and how to coax your pitcher to get them out, and possibly some new swear words.
Much of our time was spent searching for lost balls, poking in the weeds. It was nice that whoever owned the last house on the block of Winslow Avenue would not yell at us for using the spigot at the side of the house for water breaks. In fact, the lack of cranky adults trying to spoil our fun was one of the best things about the field. The time would come, however, when the city recreation department would decide to turn The Field into an adult influenced playground with things like swings and monkey bars and picnic tables and a slide and, worst of all, a “teacher” with arts and crafts. We were aghast, but we had a counter plan. And that will be a subject for another day.