Believe it or not, children used to play baseball–without Little League, without uniforms, without coaches, umpires, a scoreboard, sponsors, a crowd of parents in the stands, and perpetual supervision of our every move.
My first baseball glove was my father’s old Larry French model, vintage 1940. More often than not, our baseball was wrapped in tape because we’d long since knocked off the cover. Some of our favorite bats were kind of patched together, too.
We never had 18 kids to play full teams, and sometimes our bases were trees, stones, or squares drawn in the dirt. Because we were always so short-handed, we had a plethora of playground rules that allowed us to play baseball with as few as four kids to a team. Here are some of the rules we used.
Pitcher’s hand: So who needs a first baseman? If the ball got thrown back to the pitcher before you got to whatever base you were going to, you were out.
Invisible man on base: One thing about imaginary baserunners–they never got hurt.
Call your field: Sometimes we had to make do with only two outfielders, or even one. So before the pitch was thrown, the batter had to announce which field he intended to hit to, and the outfielders were positioned accordingly. If you hit to some other field, you were out.
Imaginary outfielders: If no one was available to play the outfield, we decided on whether a batted ball was a hit or an out, and what kind of a hit it was, based on whether a fielder, had one been out there, would have ordinarily been able to catch the ball. This could lead to a lot of debate, but that was sometimes half the fun.
Four foul balls, or two, and you’re out: Nobody wants to chase foul balls, one after another. This rule saved a lot of time.
There were other rules in addition to these, and we decided which ones to use and then started playing. Those discussions helped to teach us arts not generally associated with baseball, like compromise, negotiation, and sweet-talking.
Thanks to these innovations, we were able to play baseball every day, for as long as we liked.
And if that wasn’t more fun than Little League, I am very much mistaken.