Skip to comments.Child's play: Informal baseball games a rarity
Posted on 05/19/2010 9:17:40 AM PDT by JoeProBono
Bobby Valentine remembers the days when he would ride around his neighborhood on his bike and round up the guys for a sandlot baseball game.
Or two games.
"I was the ringmaster," said Valentine, an ESPN analyst and former major league manager who grew up in Stamford, Conn. "All the kids in the neighborhood kept their gloves on my handlebars, so I'd just ride down by their houses hollering that it was time to play. Usually, I didn't even knock on doors. I just hollered. We'd play until dinner was on the table."
No coaches. No uniforms. And no umpires.
No crowds. No parents. And no pressure.
It was where kids learned how to run pickoff plays with their next-door neighbors. Where they learned to field ground balls on infields littered with rocks and debris. And where they discovered the high school kid from two blocks over really did have a mean curve ball.
It was where baseball instincts were honed, not by instruction but by trial and error.
Yet while it's easy to find a pickup basketball game almost anywhere in the country these days, informal baseball games have become a rarity.
Baseball is suffering because of it, according to University of Virginia baseball coach Brian O'Connor.
"If there isn't a scheduled practice or game, kids aren't playing baseball," O'Connor said. "They are playing PlayStation and Xbox. Heck, they aren't even playing catch with their dads. That's got to change."
These days, kids are paraded to T-ball fields at the age of 4, thrust into AAU play as early as 8. Some say they are overinstructed, at times by adults who weren't very good themselves and can't lend a lot of basic know-how.
"How often do you hear that this player or that player is getting personal hitting instruction from some so-called expert who's charging $60 to $80 for an hour-long lesson?" O'Connor asked. "You want to become a better hitter? Go shake a crab-apple tree and spend your summer hitting every crab apple that falls out of it with a broomstick."
Compared with yesteryear, today's youth baseball environment is almost test-tube in nature.
Mays playing stickball
Ahhhh, stickball played with a Spaulding. Kids could be kids without the hovering parent wannabe coaches interfering every 45 seconds. That my friend, was an early taste of freedom.
Neighborhood sports are one of the most valuable and memorable activities most of us ever engaged in. The interaction, socialization, etc. teach countless skills and coping strategies. In, short, they toughen you up. If more kids played sports the isolation and alienation that result in behavioral disorders (which used to be called needing a kick up the backside) would greatly diminish.
Youth sports leagues are better than nothing but the helicopter parents are way too involved.
We had baselines worn into the grass of our local park and a couple more places on the elementary schoolyard. That’s just from the days when we couldn’t get on the other two regular ballfields in town.
Yep even playing organized little league was a low cost affair just for fun. No expensive uniforms, just a glove, tennis shoes, a cap and t-shirt with our team name printed on them.
I played for the Hanover Athletics most years. We lost a lot but it was OK because we got ice cream.
It was the 60s when myself and the kids I knew would play baseball pretty much all day long in the Florida sun. If you didn’t have enough to field two teams, you played Home Run Derby. If you didn’t have enough for HRD, you played catch. Those were some fun times.
It’s a sad reality that drives home to me that I’m becoming an antique.
As a kid we played ball all the time, it’s all we had to do. Pitcher’s hand, closed field, ghost runners, we could play a game with 8 kids, 4 on a side, and we did.
We’d also play wiffle ball when we didn’t have enough for a “real game”. That only took 2 people, one to pitch, one to hit. Stand in the front yard, and over the street over the hedges was a home run.
Those days are gone, probably forever. An xbox is far too slick, and way too appealing to kids. I feel sorry for them.
Rent the movie “The Sandlot” sometime. GREAT movie, (it’s a kid’s movie), and it wasn’t far from my childhood experience.
This is a disturbing situation. How do we correct it?
Ah, the ‘good ole days’ for me was early-mid 80’s.
It was just as he said, we went through the neighborhood and rounded up 12-14 kids and played all day at the middle school backstop.
When some had to go home, the rest of us played 500 for hours on end.
Oh how you all taking me back.
We lived at the head of a cul-de-sac.
It seems that every single summer day, my alarm clock was the sound of a wooden bat dropping on the man hole cover that served as homeplate.
God I loved that sound.
Loved the part with the cute lifeguard.
At the end, he winds up marrying her.
“pitcher’s hand”, “ghost runners”,...
I’m getting sentimental here.
I played football vs my younger brother and big bro served as quaterback for each team.
Yes, the sand lot can teach a kid to “make do.”
Now they need the namebrand bat, top of line cleats, the super duper A2000 glove, etc etc.
Have you noticed that even the post-game activities are scripted? Line up and shake hands, etc. I’m all for sportsmanship but when you ritualize social interaction you set it up as stiff and foreign.
The kids are immediately spirited away by the too-involved parents - no hanging around and talking about the game or anything else.
Here are some of the things that made it difficult for us when I was growing up in the 70s, early 80s to get a pickup game going:
1. Mean-a** retired cop on the block always complaining.
2. Homeowners in the subdivision who never came out of their homes except to b*tch when a ball landed in their yards.
3. The local ballfields kicked us off when we were older than 10 because foul balls were going over the fences into homeowners’ yards, and they then complained.
4. The local ballfields kicked us off when we were older than 10 because we were starting to hit the ball hard (ie, homerun), and, again, homeowners complained.
5. We could never get on a field that teens used because the field managers complained that their grass and dirt was messed up for league play later that day.
6. We could never get on a field that teens used because there was a league game happening.
That really sucks when you’re a kid, and you don’t understand why adults aren’t more accommodating and have so little patience. Yeah, there will be those guys on here that will come and b*tch about getting their windows broken, but how do you think a kid is going to react if he 1) doesn’t know you as a neighbor, 2) or knows your an a-hole, 3) knows you’ll probably come out screaming wanting to kill him over a window?
Those experiences are part of why I bought 1.7 acres in a small 20 home subdivision where everyone knows each other so my little son can grow up with room to play and not have to deal jerks.
Perving the dish!
Wiffle bat, tennis ball. Hitting the garage door was a hit, hitting the basketball backboard a homerun. Hitting the square inside the basketball backboard was a grand slam. Batter was out on any “decent” throw. Only two bases (incl. homeplate).
There is nothing like the sound of a well thrown baseball smacking the webbing of baseball mitt on a hot summer afternoon.
One of the highlights of my travels was meeting Willie Mays at the Oakland airport while we were both waiting for a flight out. We got to talk a bit...he of the hated Giants and me a diehard Dodgers fan. I asked him who he considered to be the toughest pitcher he ever faced. His answer: Sandy Koufax....yeah, those were the days.
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