As adults, most of us recognize the game of baseball as a specific thing. There’s a diamond, with fences, the basepaths are 90 feet long, a hit is a hit, a single is a single, a double is a double, and so on and so forth. We know the game as if it is something we have been playing our whole lives. Often that is true, but it’s just as true that we all grew up playing some variation of the game of baseball.
A recent Call to the Pen article about the Dominican Republic game of Vtilla brought back a flood of memories about the way I used to play the game of baseball. You see, it’s not uncommon to only have five or six friends to play a game with. It was normal as a kid to not have a field to play on, a ball to play with, or a bat, or this, or that. In neighborhoods across the globe, kids created baseball as they needed it to fit their environment. For me, this meant a game of baseball played on a half basketball court.
I can still recall the trek to the court we had decided was our field. I grew up in a town that had one of those long streets that bitted up against all the other streets. There were no intersections, the end of every street and the long street was marked by some sort of section of grass or a playground. The benefit of this set up is that it allowed for various playgrounds to be installed at the end of any number of the smaller streets. One particular playground was close to my house, just behind an apartment complex. The playground was in actuality quite small but that’s because the playground in question had a half basketball court taking up much if its space.
The setup of this court was quite impressive. There was a thirty-foot high chain-link fence behind the basketball hoop to protect kids from running into the apartment parking lot after errant basketballs. On the other end, there was nothing except a small section of grass and then the busy long street that took up most of the town. One side featured the playground and the other side was occupied by an administration building. Two to three times a week myself and a group of friends would travel to this playground to play our own form of baseball.
We each brought a glove and we had one aluminum bat that we shared amongst the group. It was my job to bring a tennis ball, yes, just one tennis ball. That was our gear, all we needed to play some baseball. There were usually around five of us for a game. The rules were simple. The two far corners and center of the three-point line were the bases. A few feet in front of second base was the area designated as the mound. There was no catcher and there weren’t really teams. We all took turns hitting and pitching, playing and keeping score in a way that made zero sense. You couldn’t walk but you also couldn’t strikeout. You were out if a fielder caught the ball in the air or threw to the pitcher before you could make it to the base. The pitcher could throw whatever he, or she, wanted with the tennis ball.
The most important rule dealt with the end of the game. Only three things would signal the end of a game. 1) Darkness, 2) a player lived close enough to hear one of their parents yelling for them to come home, or 3) someone hit a home run over the big fence. We never brought extra tennis balls because, well, we were stupid. For some unknown reason, we decided early on that if one of us managed to lift a ball over that fence the came was just over right then and there. Some of my friends tried their hardest to end the game right away. Others, like me, did their best to hit line drives because we didn’t want the game to end. Inevitably someone would loft one over that fence and we would go home.
The thing I remember most about our brand of baseball is that it never had to exist. The Little League fields were literally five minutes further down that long street. We could have gone to those fields and brought real baseball every single time we played a game. We never did though, from about the ages of nine until thirteen it was always the basketball court for us.
I think that even back then we knew the great truth of the game of baseball: the game itself takes a backseat to the experience and ensuing relationships. That’s why I never wanted to hit a home run over that thirty-foot tall fence. I didn’t want the game to end because I wanted more time with my friends and the game that was bringing us together. Baseball still brings me closer to others, and though we’re in a dark period it will be back. Relationships will renew, continue, or be made anew. Baseball is great, whether on a field or a basketball court. Baseball brings us together, and it will always do that, no matter the form.