Before this blog takes a summer hiatus, here’s a bulletin that you won’t get from ESPN: kids are still playing sandlot baseball. At least my nephew Zack and his buddies in Prospect, Ky., have discovered how much fun baseball can be without adults, umpires and uniforms. (That’s them pictured at right.)
I’m as shocked as anybody. I thought pick-up games in the corner lot had gone the way of transistor radios and Nehi grape soda.
When I was kid, most of my summer days were spent playing ball in the big field next to my house. My neighborhood pals and I would park a bicycle sideways behind home plate (which was usually a piece of cardboard) hoping the spoked wheels would serve as a backstop. (We didn’t always have enough players to afford a catcher.) There was a water tower surrounded by a fence in left field, which was the Promised Land of the Home Run we all sought to reach. Our bats were Louisville Slugger brand — made of wood, of course. Most had been broken at the handle, but repaired with small nails and wrapped in electrical tape.
I played Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion and high school baseball, but the best times were those pick-up games on lazy summer days, with Kool-Aid and jelly sandwiches fueling me through double- and triple-headers. No overheated moms or dads screaming at umpires. No overzealous coaches telling us to “take a walk” instead of swinging and (heaven forbid!) striking out. No itchy cotton uniforms making us squirm. We just played ball, imagining ourselves as Mays, Mantle and Aaron, until our moms called us home for dinner.
So it was good news to hear that my nephew and his friends had discovered the joys of sandlot baseball. They put away their iPods and Xboxes, pick up their bats and gloves, and imagine themselves as Griffey, A-Rod and Pujols.
I guess there’s still hope for the world of sports.