Where Have all the Sandlots Gone?

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The other day I was talking with my grandson, Keylan. I asked how he was doing on his high school track team. As usual, he is doing his best, but the World and Olympic records are probably safe for the time being. I told him about my non-record setting times from my high school gym class. I also told him that my best sports were football and baseball. I explained that while I never tried out for a team, I played a lot of sandlot sports. Suddenly, I felt quite old. I was using terminology unfamiliar to today’s youth. I also felt somewhat bad for this generation, staring at screens all of the time, when they could be experiencing life.

When I think back, my interest in baseball probably goes back to around 1959. Even as a five year old, the energy around Chicago was palpable. I didn’t understand much, but this baseball was an exciting game. Everyone was talking about the White Sox. In the end, they prevailed. The Sox won the Pennant. Little did I know that they would not win another Pennant until 2005. However, that’s not the point. At that time, commonly recognized as the Golden Age of Baseball, there were games everywhere. It seemed that every field big enough would have kids playing. My Oak Lawn neighborhood was no exception. From the first day school was out, we played baseball. The school park was only a block away. Sometimes that seemed too far. We would play in the street until Mr. Brown came out and yelled at us. I tried to reassure him that we were all too talented to hit any parked cars. He never seemed to buy that argument. So we walked the tiresome journey to the park where we could run and hit and field for the next three hours, unencumbered.

Some days we would break for lunch and return in the afternoon until dinner. I never really had any lessons. I just watched my favorite players on TV and did what they did. We had a core group, but some different players would show up every day. Often, there weren’t enough to field two full teams so we played modified games. We could play a modified game called Indian Ball with as few as four. With three we played running bases. With two, we played catch, hit, and pitch with a tennis ball against the wall of the school (usually around the corner from the “NO Ball Playing Allowed” sign).

A nice lady across from the school let us drink from her hose. I still remember the taste of the warm rubber flavored water. As bad as it tasted, it’s probably allowed us to survive on the really hot days. After playing, mom usually had cold Kool Aide and cookies waiting for anyone who wanted it. We probably drank a couple glasses before we actually could enjoy the flavor.

Over the course of a summer, we went through a lot of baseballs. However, funds were scarce. Being resourceful, we found tricks to prolong their life. It usually involved sneaking into dad’s tool chest and stealing tape. Eventually, no matter how hard we tried to preserve it the cover would come off. Then it was time for a serious tape job. It made for some colorful baseballs; green, red, black, or whatever tape I found. Mrs. Byczek always thought it was hysterical. To me, it was just a lesson in survival.

Over the course of a few summers, I actually got pretty good. I was a natural hitter and rarely missed. I was also quite good in the outfield. However, I spent most of my time in the infield. I needed more work there. I had a lot of difficulty judging hard grounders. They made it look so easy on TV. Somehow I never considered that the inconsistent clumps of grass and sand and rocks might have some effect. I thought it must be that I wasn’t keeping my eye on the ball, or getting in front of it. What I lacked in ability, I made up for in determination. My favorite game came at a price. The price included scrapes, black and blue shins, an occasional ball in the face (the wrong way to keep your eye on the ball), and at least once a summer the dreaded groin shot (with laughter adding insult to injury). Broken fingers were part of the deal as well. A couple of them are still noticeably bent. Unlike my TV heroes, however, no trainer rushed onto the field. Instead, I excused myself and went home. I enjoyed a Popsicle. The stick made an ideal splint. When combined with a little more of dad’s seemingly endless tape supply, I was again set to rejoin my friends on the field of honor.

Yes I do feel sorry for today’s generation. They don’t know what they are missing. Or maybe they do?

Crystal’s Corner

I also remember sandlot baseball.  My brother and his friends played often.  Sometimes they let me play with them even though I was a girl. Other times, they refused to let me play.  I would get mad at them, yell at my brother, and stomp home.  But after a while, I learned a way to get them to let me play.  I stole the ball.  There was usually only one ball.  Balls got lost so often in weeds and prairies that the parents couldn’t keep replacing them.  I would bring the ball home with me and my brother would follow yelling. “Crystal, you have to give the ball back to me.”  I would go in the house smiling, gripping the ball.  My brother would try to get my Dad on his side, but Dad would say, “Let your sister play.”  Finally, my brother would give in and say, “All right come on, I will make them let you play.”  We would then return to the sandlot where all of the players were now sitting on the ground resting.  That was what was really good about playing sandlot ball. When you got tired, you just sat down.  Then either we would find a hose we could turn on for a drink or go home for snacks and Kool Aid.  A lot of the time, my brother’s friends, Georgie and Bobby, came to my house because my mom made the best chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods.

Summer was fun. Summer was being outside in the sunshine running around, roller skating, playing tag, jump roping, playing red rover, playing mother may I and other games.  We didn’t watch much TV because our moms wouldn’t let us stay in the house to watch TV.  All the parents agreed to tell us, “Go out and play.”  They knew it was good for us.

OK, it’s not sandlot, but it is my grandson Keylan playing baseball. He’s a good kid. He’ll never know what he missed.

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