The Lighter Side of Neighborhood Sports
As a kid, your bike was your most prized possession. Despite the rusty chain and a few broken spokes, the frame was solid and the tires were still holding air. It was your passport to adventure, taking you daily to the neighborhood park where other kids would congregate in hopes of starting a pick up baseball game.
Everyone had their gloves slung through their handlebars. A couple guys brought bats and a ball. They were usually the jerks and neighborhood bullies, but tolerating them was necessary for obvious reasons. Like miniature dictators, they would proclaim themselves team captains as they were already smoking cigarettes and shaving peach fuzz off their smirk-filled faces. Apparently those were the qualifications required for such a lofty position.
After teams were chosen (and you were picked last once again) the bases were marked and play began. Being the worst player on the team, you were stuck in right field. Naturally the first kid up to the plate slugs the ball high into your direction. You lose it in the sun and it lands behind you. The batter, a kid named Bubba huffs and puffs his way around first base, the makeshift remnants of a dirty, ripped pizza box dug out of the nearby trash can.
As you shag down the ball, Bubba is rounding first and heading to second base, actually an old milk crate. All the kids are yelling, cries of “run Bubba, run!’ mixed with “get the ball, you moron!” You trip over a chunk of concrete jutting up in the middle of right field, losing a shoe and shredding your pants as you wonder “who the hell put that there?”
Bubba is sweating harder than a cold pop bottle left in the sun, while you are thrashing around trying to grab the ball. You finally fling it with all of your might into the cutoff man. Except the ball takes its own lazy journey, like a wandering insect, landing halfway between 2nd base and centerfield. Your teammates howl in agony while Bubba chugs into third base, which is a small shrubbery that probably won’t last the summer.
You rush in all the way from right field, mostly because you really don’t know what else to do or where to go. But even if you stink at baseball, you want to be close to the action. By now Bubba is running for home plate and the ball comes whizzing in from another direction.
The catcher (who is the second worst player on the team) misses the ball and it clangs against the chain link fence. You grab it and lunge toward home plate (an actual paper plate) trying to tag Bubba out just as he crosses the threshold. This could be your moment of glory, your only chance at redemption, at perfect absolution.
The collision that occurs will be talked about for decades.
Amid screams and cheers, flying dust and gravel, a spray of sweat and spit and a few choice words, the umpire makes the call. SAFE! You lie in the dirt, your crumpled body exhausted, broken, defeated. And it's only the first inning.
Life can be brutal on the neighborhood ball field, but there is no denying how much fun it can be. Sadly today, too many kids would rather grab a game controller than a baseball glove. In spite of all the scrapes, bumps and bruises, they don’t know what they’re missing.