Monday, June 9, 2008

Backyard Baseball Memories

I love playing baseball. I don’t really like watching it—don’t boo—it’s just I’d rather hit the ball than watch it on the screen. But my favorite kind of baseball is the backyard baseball of my youth. I grew up on a farm and our house sat on about 3 acres of various pastures for our horses and cows, so we had to improvise a little when we played.

We had a huge back yard which is about the size of a regular building lot nowadays. We had room for all 3 bases, even if it wasn’t regulation distance. The plates were definitely not regulation either. We used paper bags, pieces of paper, whatever we could find—but the best was when a little old lady that loved to crochet made a special “base” for my little brother. She put something on it to make the yarn really hard and we about wore that thing out.

We used real bats and a real hardball. This was and still is a fun family tradition. I can hear my dad telling me from the pitcher’s mound, “Rachelle, you don’t have to kill the ball.”

He just didn’t want me to smack it past the white birch trees which separated our yard from the pasture. But he did it, so I wanted to do the same. That was pretty much a home run hit, if you got it into the pasture because it was a little dangerous to go fetch the ball.

First you had to make sure and duck just at the right moment while running full speed so you didn’t clothesline yourself on the electric fence. Then, once you entered the pasture you had to watch out for cowpies, horse piles, and gopher holes. The tall grass made it difficult to find the ball so once you found it and chucked it back into the yard—yep it was pretty much a home run, grand slam, take a bathroom break kind of hit.

The other reason my dad told me not to kill the ball is because he knew about foul balls. Amazingly enough, we never broke a window, but we came close a few times! And of course it was always a good thing to have an ice pack handy because a few of those line drive hits smacked somebody in the head when they weren’t paying attention. Does this sound like a game you’d like to play? It really wasn’t that scary.

Even in the face of mishaps, I still look forward to a good game of backyard baseball. We had several assorted sizes of baseball mitts and if we were short, my dad would go without and he could actually catch a pop-fly with his bare hands. See, now that’s another reason he didn’t want me to kill the ball.

My dad even taught my sister and I how to pitch for the church softball team. My older sister ended up being my young women’s softball coach for a while. I spent a lot of time throwing a ball into a five gallon bucket, trying to get just the right arc into the “strike zone.” I guess that’s why I enjoy the game so much, because of all the great memories tied into it. I hope that I’ll be able to give my children the same love of sports that I enjoy. I’m definitely going to make sure they play a few games of backyard baseball with their grandpa this summer!

I know I’m far from the world’s greatest baseball player and I probably couldn’t be categorized as the world’s biggest fan, but give me a game of backyard baseball any day—just make sure you have your mitt!
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