Baseball at its finest
The interpolations of formulas solving for multiple variables does not have as many iterations as the game of baseball.
There is baseball and softball as the basics two. I played both starting with little league when I couldn’t be 8 years old fast enough. My brother was 8 and I watched his games wishing I could be playing too. I stopped playing baseball at 21 and played softball into my mid-forties. Coaching the kids shortened my career which is what I tell people rather than it being the aches and pains of an aging body.
Kick Ball: Played in the streets of suburban New Jersey. Summer nights was the best time. Any number could play and teams didn’t have to be equal numbers. Usually a sewer or fire hydrant would serve as first and third base and a manhole cover would be second. Chalk could also mark the bases. The pitcher would roll a soft rubber ball and the batter would start from behind home plate, run up and kick the ball. The ball had to land in the street to be fair. Caught on the fly was an out and you could retire a base runner by throwing the ball and hitting them.
Wall Ball: Draw a chalk square, or the strike zone, on the side of a brick or concrete building that has a decent size parking lot or, even better, an adjacent grass lawn. The equipment needed: Tennis balls and a sawed off broom stick. You could play with one tennis ball but if the ball could be hit into any unrecoverable area it was best to have more than one. The teams could be one-on-one or multiple players. In the one-on-one version of the game strikeouts and walks were determined by swings and misses and whether pitches taken landed inside the square or not. Hits were determined by the distance the ball traveled in the air beyond the pitcher. Any ball bouncing before the pitcher was an out. Players didn’t run the bases. Each team kept mental track of base runners and scores. For a two on two version the distances for hits were adjusted because each team now had a fielder who could catch fly balls beyond the pitcher. Still no base runners and as the teams grew hit variations were made.
Stick Ball: Never played since I wasn’t a city kid and we didn’t play in the burbs because we had wall ball. I heard it is similar in terms of equipment, Spauldeens instead tennis balls, but the broom stick was the same. Hits were determined by street distance and the pitcher was required to one-bounce the ball before it reached the batter. Lore is such that each NYC borough had their own rules.
Pick Up Games: These iterations were only limited by the imaginations of the players. The games were played on real baseball fields; Little League dimensions. Baseball is a 9 player per team game. On any summer day in the park there never 18 kids to play. Therefore if there were 10 it would five to a side. You didn’t need a catcher but a pitcher, third base, shortstop, first base and left fielder would be the teams of five. Since the fielders were limited, foul balls would be any ball hit to the right of second base. Foul territory was adjusted as the teams increased or decreased in number. We played without helmets umped the games ourselves and the pitcher called his own balls and strikes.
Collectively throughout all the years and versions of the games I played, they are dwarfed by the sheer number of stoop ball games. Stoop ball is the ultimate one on one baseball game and I grew up with three brothers who were all worthy adversaries.
The “stoop” is a set of steps. We had three concrete steps leading up the porch of our house. It was the perfect stoop.
The game is played with a tennis ball. Play is initiated when the “batter” throws the ball against the stoop. If the ball hits the flat step portion it will bounce from the stair then carom off the riser and be an lazy pop up. If the ball hit the riser first then it would be a grounder and as long as the fielder cleanly fielded the grounder an out was recorded.
The object of batting was to hit the point where the stair and riser met. That would produce a line drive trajectory and some distance. The fielder was positioned at the end of the front walk on the intersecting sidewalk. Any ball he caught was an out, Grounders had to be caught before they reached the sidewalk or they would be singles. You could go back into the street to catch the flies and line drives but the initial fielding position had to be the sidewalk.
Any ball not fielded cleanly was a single. A ball halfway across the street was a double, beyond half way a triple and over the street on a fly was a homer. Because each toss against the stoop produced a hit or an out, nine inning games could take 15 to 20 minutes, which accounts for the sheer volume.
My brother Bob was pretty much my everyday opponent. He is two years younger and is the better baseball player but stoop ball is not baseball and we were competitive equals.
Memory says that our games numbered in the thousands. We took turns as play by play broadcasters. We sweated when it was hot and wore sweatshirts when it was cold. We suspended play, not because of rain but because the ball went down the sewer and we had to try and find another. We laughed, competed, occasionally argued but had fun.
We also created a memory of a place and time so vivid, here I am sharing it with you today.
Thanks for reading.