Where have all the sandlots gone?
Is sandlot baseball a pastime that’s past its time?
Does anyone out there reading this know what workup is?
What on earth is summer for now? When I was a kid summer was for baseball. In vacant lots, on tennis courts, in the park, in the school yard, in our front yard, in Jim Larson’s back yard, down at Sportsman’s Park. Anyplace we could find a place. We played on grass, dirt, cement, asphalt, in corn fields, back yards, front yards, the street, any place that was reasonably (and I use that term liberally) level. Sometimes we had gullies right in the base paths. In some of our newer fields, the ones with tall grass, we discovered hidden sharp objects and rocks and rusty nails the hard way, usually with someone’s foot or knee or head. Blood, bruises andstitches were an unintended, yet integral and widely accepted part, of our summertime baseball adventures.
Were we cautious about our playing fields? Nah. We were working our way up to the bigs and we all knew we had to pay a hefty price on the way.
The best field I remember was a nice vacant corner lot down the street. Right next to it was another vacant lot. It made for a deep left field. We built a backstop on that field, chopped down weeds and mowed the grass ourselves, carved out base paths and built a pitcher’s mound. We had everything we needed except paying fans and concession revenues.
One thing we didn’t have was a bunch of parents hanging around. No one was watching us or living out their childhood dreams to play in the majors through us. We had no team mom. We had no coach. But what we did have was lots of fun. Of course, some days were more fun than others. Like the days I’d go three-for-four with a couple RBI’s and a few good catches.
Whether we had good days or bad, though, it was all about playing the game. We all knew the rules. We called our own games, we argued over some calls every once in a while. Some of the wieners even got sore enough sometimes to take their bats and gloves and go home. We knew the wiener would be back to play again the next day. We exchanged a few childish epithets and went right back to playing the game.
The game we usually played was workup. We didn’t have enough kids in our neighborhood for a team, even if some kids from other neighborhoods showed up to play, which they often did. In workup we usually had at least a pitcher, two batters, a first baseman, a shortstop and an outfielder. If we had more they plugged in to the other positions. The two batters kept batting and scoring (no fair bunting) until one of them got put out. Then the kid who got put out went to left field. The left fielder moved to short. The shortstop moved to first. The kid on first moved to pitcher, and the pitcher became a batter.
And so went the game. We could play with as few as three (pitcher, batter and fielder), but it was harder. Usually when players peeled off down to three we called it quits and started in on our brags about our play that day and our lofty predictions of our performance the next day, provided we had a field the next day.
We all knew not to get too attached to our field, although this one was a bute. One day the graders and backhoes showed up, and without consulting us, began the all-to-common task of leveling off the lot and piling up the dirt in left field. We all knew what that meant: somebody bought the lot. Within a few weeks a new house would begin taking shape and our stadium would disappear.
Once again our nomadic tribe of Mickey Mantle wannabes would find the next best vacant lot, field, yard or park, and without as much as an All-Star break, we’d be racing around the bases and making leaping one-hand catches on another field of dreams.