because that was a sport “for girls.” Only girls and a bunch of old men who always looked like the baseball equivalent of Uncle Rico (fat, over the hill, weird and probably drinks too much) from “Napoleon Dynamite” played softball in my neighborhood. And in my neighborhood, you didn’t play lacrosse. The one guy who did play, threw the ball endlessly against the same wall, all alone, and eventually got beaten up.
But there were three serious games we played and we started at 8 a.m. and went until our mothers yelled down the alley for the second or third time and the din of the lightning bugs was thick, the crickets were chirping and the mosquitoes were feasting on us.
Then, it was usually time for Snowball Joe to roll through the neighborhood in his white truck ringing the bell and blaring 98 Rock. I always went with the pineapple with marshmallow — the topping was an extra 10 cents, but well worth the investment. I always looked for the lucky star on the bottom of the cup. It meant a “freebie” next time!
The most popular game we played was the tennis ball/wooden bat concoction on the church lot. We had a home run fence and a left center field alley, which was LITERALLY an alley. It’s still there to this day. If you could hit the ball past the left fielder, the ball could roll all day — and it was UPHILL!
The pastor at the church was a real drag (we used another euphemism for a man named Richard for this, and we’re probably taking the no-purgatory route straight to hell for the things we said). That was totally our favorite game and place and hang until the pastor put up a “NO BALL PLAYING” sign after the drug addicts and drunks and vandals in our neighborhood trashed the aluminum siding late one night. Our adult friend Bunny always pitched for us in the summer, and quarterbacked in the winter. He was Tony Tamberino’s uncle and one of the coolest guys ever — he played in a band and had days off, and usually spent them running around with us. He was the quarterback and pitcher whenever he played and it was always more fair when he played because he was the law!
And he went and tried to talk some sense into the pastor, but we still got tossed!
Then, we were forced back into Rob Debelius’ yard (he had the biggest yard in the neighborhood and it was a constant source of energy with six kids in his family) on Eastern Avenue and we were resigned to playing “advanced” waffle ball. We had played there a lot as 7 and 8 year olds. But at 10-11-12, we had to invent rules to make the game a challenge. Hitting the ball OVER the fence was now an out — it was just too easy. You had to HIT THE FENCE to have a home run, a very difficult art to master. A liner off the pool deck was a double. A liner into the pool was an out (and whoever HIT it had to GET it…with the net…hitters/gitters is what we called it!).
There was a basketball pole directly behind the pitcher and if you hit it in the hoops net, it was an automatic grand slam. And there was a log cabin in right field and a solid cement wall acted as the first base line. Left field had a long, low gray fence. Centerfield was, appropriately, a green wall. And deep centerfield had a garage overhang that was perpendicular and fed the balls back down if you hit it onto the roof.
Here was the major “house” rule (and didn’t EVERY playground have these?): catching off anything! That meant if you caught it before it touched the ground it was an out no matter what it hit off of (including the grand slam basket!). And the fence had a ledge that was always playable, if you were quick.
We ALL kept our own statistics. Some summers when we got a little older, we’d have like 139 dingers in one season!
Wiffle ball was the best game for emulating the Orioles’ stars and their batting stances.
We’d play Orioles vs. the Red Sox and make lineups from the previous night’s box score and then have to bat AND pitch in the style of the player who was up. If you didn’t know what Eddie’s crouch looked like or Bumbry’s squat or Lee May’s herky-jerky twist, you were going to be getting the business from the fellows in the ‘hood. And doing Tiant’s twirl was absolutely the best. EVERYONE in my neighborhood wanted to be Luis Tiant!
The only way to have your “head in the game” was to watch the game in the evenings on TV. And of course, we tried to follow the “Oriole Way” because Brooks Robinson and Chuck Thompson would tell us the right ways to be a ballplayer. Hitting the cutoff man, sacrificing, moving runners — those same fundamentals that really don’t exist in the majors any more — I learned them from BROOKS.
Other than the tennis parking lot game and waffle ball, the only other game was the most obvious — getting a real bat and glove and ball and heading “up to the school” for a pickup game. This usually involved kids from other parts of the neighborhood, who would occasionally invade our turf for a waffle ball friendly or hit the church lot before we were expelled.
This was always the least amount of fun for us, because usually it was just a big drama nd some kids just sucked at baseball