The views of the author are not necessarily the views of AllOnGeorgia.
Yes, it was once my favorite time of year.
That was because it meant I didn’t have to go to school, of course.
So, instead of having to make it through a long day sitting in a desk and doing multiplication tables before we could play the big game that afternoon, we could play that game any time we wanted.
And we could play more than one. We could play all day and most everyday. I will elaborate in a moment.
But first, let me confess. We didn’t actually play ball from sun up to sun down on my neighborhood street.
Most of us would spend at least part of the morning watching television, be it cartoons or otherwise. For me, it was usually Chips, Different Strokes and the Price is Right.
Or maybe some of us did gather at someone’s house and play Atari, Coleco and Nintendo before running home to grab lunch and then meeting back up for the day’s athletic activities.
Playing video games is also how we might have chosen to cool off on a hot afternoon after battling it out on our makeshift baseball diamond, which was actually more of a square made by putting two adjacent yards together.
And truthfully, we didn’t always play ball when we were outdoors. We did spend some time here and there playing Follow the Leader on our mag-wheel bikes and 10-speeds, building forts in the woods and selling kool aid on the street corner to all those passing by who couldn’t refuse the offer from the cute little kids on the block.
And, we went swimming – a lot – in the pool in my backyard where there were some mean games of pool ball, plus plenty of cheating in games like Marco Polo, Sharks and Minnows and Colors.
But mostly, we played ball and we played game after game for hours upon hours and repeated the deal the next day. And the next day, too. And the day after the next day, too.
In between games, we would solve the problems of the day like who was the better base stealer, Vince Coleman or Ricky Henderson?
We discussed the icky girls in our elementary school classes who later became the cute girls in middle school.
And we traded baseball cards. I might offer my duplicate Nolan Ryan and Tony Gwynn Topps cards for a Goose Gossage Fleer and a Steve Sax Donruss card. My friend was happy with the deal, I was happy with the trade and life was good. Let’s go play another game.
When I said we played ball, that ball was mostly baseball, or some version of the Grand Old Game. It was summer, after all, and for us that was synonymous with baseball.
On my street, we pretty much played whatever was in season. It was football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the summer.
Our so-called baseball games were played with aluminum bats and a tennis ball. Our square field was too tight to play with a hard ball. Even we were smart enough to know we would break more house windows than we did with a real baseball and we’d go broke in a hurry trying to pay for the damages with our weekly allowances.
But we were fine with tennis balls, the newer the better of course. Those mammoth home runs we hit over the two tall trees that were basically our warning track and into the road that was our proverbial fence were a sight to see for sure. Micky Mantle had nothing on me, I’ll tell you.
We bounced those tennis balls off of brick houses, rooftops and the trees down the first base line. You had to know how the ball would bounce and how to play the caroms off the two houses down the left field line and where to go to catch a flyball off the rooftops for an out.
We had so many rules for all those quirky things that we couldn’t keep them straight, and certainly I couldn’t even attempt to rattle them off now.
Thing is, we changed them so many times that arguments naturally ensued when there was a rules conflict.
Did we say anyone hitting the stop sign beyond right field on the fly or the bounce was automatically out or were we still awarding a home run for such accuracy even though the ball was obviously foul otherwise?
Oh yeah. Arguments ensued. There was finger pointing, sometimes even name-calling and yes even fights involving jabs to the stomach or wild swings that rarely landed on the head before the others dove in to break up the nonsense.
Yes, sometimes kids went home crying and sometimes even lying about the big kids bullying the little kids because all of us older kids would agree to a call that didn’t favor the younger kids. And yes, parents sometimes got involved and tried to play peace-maker.
But most times, we settled these situations among ourselves. The majority would rule that the latest rule in place was that a ball getting stuck in the flower bed resulted in a ground-rule double and the kid who trotted all the way around the bases had to return to second.
But in fairness, since that kid hadn’t played since we changed the rule, we might agree to give the next 50-50 call to that guy. He walked away satisfied and on we went with the game.
Funny thing is, we had some scrooges on the street who occasionally got mad at us kids running up and down the road, chasing balls into their yards and other such things.
I kind of get it now. Well, to a point, anyway.
One guy didn’t like us hitting our Wiffle Ball into his front yard or back yard.
So, what did he do? Well, I’m pretty sure he turned his dog loose in his backyard only so we would be scared to retrieve our balls, and we were.
But, we outsmarted him. All we did was go buy more balls so we could keep playing if we hit one into the Dawg Pound. Then, when he would chain the dog back up, we got up enough bravado to open the gate and retrieve our balls.
He also parked an old work car next to his driveway which was our fence. If you hit the driveway on the fly, that was a home run. So, his car ended up being right in the middle of our outfield.
He didn’t mind the old car getting hit by a plastic ball, and we ended up not minding it being there. It was just another obstacle to navigate, much like the trees and those dadgum flower beds.
All we did was make rules involving the car when it was there. Anything bouncing off of it was still a live ball. A ball that hit it on the fly could be caught for an out and a ball getting stuck under it resulted in a ground-rule double.
And, it actually made it more fun to hit homers. Line drives through the middle could no longer hit his driveway on the fly without hitting the car first. But a line drive or a flyball that hit the top of the car and landed on his driveway was still a homer, much like a ball hitting the top of the fence before leaving the yard in a real game.
And, it really just meant we had to hit towering shots over the car to have a better chance at a home run. That was fun. We were doing what Dale Murphy and Bob Horner did for our beloved Braves.
Fun, fun, fun. Yes, those were the good ole days.
I hope kids today are getting out and enjoying those same good times.
The other day, though, I drove through my small neighborhood when leaving the house and returning later in the day. Neither time did I see kids playing catch in the yard or squirting each other with the water hose.
Maybe, it was just bad luck on my part. Maybe they were inside doing chores or getting a snack. Or maybe, they were off at summer camp. Or maybe, the older kids were working a summer job.
But, I do hope soon that I will see them playing Follow the Leader on their bikes or tossing a rubber ball off the side of their houses and taking turns fielding it with their ball gloves.
There’s a time for video games and television. But not all day, every day.
Play ball, kids.