The Tree Diamond (Playing Baseball without Adult Interference)

Green field and a lonely tree

Imagine a time when kids played baseball without uniforms, without schedules, without the pressure of having to win, and without adults “helping” them play better. It has been a long time, since I have seen children play a game of baseball on their own. Please join me for a trip back to the 1960s, when as a child, I actually played baseball games without an adult in sight.

Back in the mid-sixties, before the Highland Park Community High School was built on Woodward Avenue, there was a place called Ford Park where children played on the playground equipment. Families had picnics. Older adults played shuffleboard, and people played tennis at the tennis courts. There was also pavilion to warm up after ice skating on the manmade skating rink east of the pavilion.

Going east from the pavilion was a large field that went all the way to Oakland Avenue.  This field had a quarter-mile running track. Beyond the track was a regulation size   baseball diamond, and three softball diamonds. This field was also the place where the Highland Park Little League football team, the Chargers, practiced.

Near Oakland Avenue, in the middle of Ford Field, one lonely, large tree stood tall, as to say: “I am alone, but I will not surrender my strength to anything.”  This tree would provide us a place of shade and our own homemade baseball diamond. There were dirt spots about equal distant from one another that made up the bases for our games. The largest dirt spot was our home plate.

Playing baseball at the “tree diamond” was a summer ritual for many of us children who lived in the northeast side of Highland Park. We never had an organized time to play, but when there were six to eight of us looking for something to do, we would get our mitts, bats and a ball and head over to our Tree Diamond.

There were several rituals that we had when we played our games.  First, we had to choose teams. We did this by having two of us become captains. To decide who would choose first, one of the captains would toss a bat to the other captain. He would catch it with one hand. Then the first captain would place his hand above the other captain’s hand on the bat.  The two captains would continue this ritual until there was no more bat to hold. The one whose hand was the highest on the bat could choose first.

We played the game with a hard ball, but we only lobbed the pitch over the “plate”.  There were no balls or called strikes. A person could only strike out if he missed the ball three times. This could make for some long at bats.

If we had only three or four people per team, we would only play half the field. The batter would have to call out if he was going to hit to right or left field.  If he hit the ball to the wrong field, he was out.  Also, with only a few players, the “pitching mound” would be first base.  When a ground ball was hit, the fielder could throw the runner out by throwing to the pitcher because there was no first baseman.

Another problem we would often confront was that we didn’t have enough baserunners.  Our solution was quite simple. We had invisible runners. The invisible runner would advance as far as the runner behind him advanced.

Our “tree diamond” was not a perfect place to place. In the middle of our left field was a white pole that was the right field foul marker for the regulation baseball diamond. This obstacle was always to be watched when chasing a fly ball.  On one occasion, I had forgotten about the pole while chasing a fly ball. The pole came out of nowhere and down I went as the side of my head and the pole had a meeting.  I came out the worse for it.

Another problem with our “tree diamond” was an old barbed wire fence that divided the Ford Field road and the Ford Motor Company property. The road was our home run marker for left field, but the ball occasionally would roll under this barbed wire fence.  One day, I decided to climb this fence to fetch a baseball, instead of going all the way to Oakland Ave and go around the fence.  As I tumbled over the fence, I ripped a nice two or three-inch section of my wrist.  I still have a nice scar to remind me of those days at the tree diamond.

The nicest thing about playing at the “tree diamond” was that we were kids playing baseball the way we enjoyed playing the game. We didn’t have adults interfering. It was our time to play as kids. There was no real pressure. There were no awards, There was no keeping track of how many wins we had.

As I reflect back to those great times of playing baseball together with my friends, I feel  for children today, who never seem to have time to go out in a field somewhere and play a good game of baseball without having adults interfering. Are we making our children grow up too fast?

P.S. Please visit my other blog:  I have several posts of a spiritual nature, such as “Clinging to God”, and “God’s Waiting Room”.

8 thoughts on “The Tree Diamond (Playing Baseball without Adult Interference)

  1. I agree–I wish kids could play like we did. But there are several major competing factors that change this from probably eve happening.
    The first one is technology. Given a choice, kids would rather play of their computer, cell phone, tablets, play station. My kids–the only time they would go outside to play was when they HAD to for an organized game. I couldn’t get them to just take the all and mitts and play. They just weren’t interested. When they we smaller, I could maybe get 5 or 10 minutes out of them, but only if I was out there playing with them. Otherwise, they’d just not do it.
    The second one is safety. Our parents could let us roam the neighborhood without keeping an eye on us every single minute. Most parents don’t feel comfortable letting their kids do that anymore, no matter where they live. We lived on a farm in Utah, and even there, parents worried. That means that kids can’t really just be kids and go off and play without adults being around, or even if the parents aren’t around, most parents would rather the kids meet at someone’s house. By the time parents trust their kids to be off on their own, the kids never had this “alone time” to play and they are now teens, and their idea of play is a little different.
    Third one I can think of is kids get a lot of “stuff” now. I remember getting a baseball glove and bat and it was my prize possession that I got that year. Same with when I got a new bike. Now, kids don’t care about these kinds of “toys”. They leave them out in the rain. They forget them at school. They let someone else use them and they get stolen. They just don’t feel the same way we did about things because they just keep getting more stuff. I know we cared for our things. I remember saddle soaping my baseball glove, washing and waxing my bike, mending torn clothes. What kid does that anymore??

    Unfortunately, it’s just a different world. Just the same as OUR childhoods were a different world from our parents. I remember hearing that growing up–how lucky we were to have the things we had and not having (as in during the Great Depression).
    It’s funny, because there are just so many things that influence our kids. And even the people who try to control that–they homeschool their kids, live in the middle of nowhere, etc. Their kids still grow up with the same wants as the kids that just grow up with regular kids and go to the public schools. We had a home school family that lived next to us. Guess what–the oldest ended up in juvenile detention because he was caught breaking into neighbor’s homes and stealing–electronics–I pods, cell phones, a computer. The next kid ran off at 16 with a boy and got pregnant. Never could figure out where she even met this boy. That’s when the parents gave up and sent the rest to regular school
    The point is–we are all a product of the time and place we grow up. Our generation had commonalities that we all relate to. Mostly these are things like TV shows, and places we hung out with friends. Our kids remember certain video games. certain old electronics. But they still have a commonality–it just mostly doesn’t involve other people, but things.

    • Lori,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I especially appreciate the time that you took to make such an insightful comment. The three things you mentioned are very true. I had thought about the safety issue as I was writing this, as well as the technology. I am glad for the opportunities we had back then to have time for creative play and working things out with our friends when there were disagreements. Please feel free to write comments on any of my posts.

  2. I remember this field well. I lived in Highland Park until I was twenty something when I married and I moved to the suburbs. I ice skated at Ford field for many years growing up and watched when they built the building to be able to get warm while you were there. Such wonderful memories, we all have. We use to play ball at Angel school that was at Gerald and Oakland and we played summer rec there too. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reading my blog! Yes, I remember summer recreation baseball. I need to write about it in the future. The interesting thing is that we never had any adult coaches. We just has a captain, who played on the team. The only adult who was involved was the umpire who would show up. Our uniforms were a simple T-shirt. I played recreation baseball from 5th to 8th grade. Yes, Ford Field and Park was my summer hangout for years.

  3. Did you ever go to the YMCA on Woodard? I recall a few times the track coach took us to Ford Park and we ran 4 times around that 1/4 – Mile track you mentioned above. I recall I still had a finishing kick on that last lap. We competed agaist other YMCAs around Detroit. Quite an experience for a young lad. Many times I remember going ice-skating at Ford Park in the winter. Had a girlfriend that lived a block away from the park. Also liked to skate at Palmer Park.

    • btw – when I was in elementary school, we lived on Tuxedo between Second and Third St. Later, we lived on Midland accross from Ford Jr. High.

    • No, I never really spent much time at the YMCA. My time was mostly spent at Ford Park. It was my home away from home. Thanks for the note and for sharing your memory of the track at the original Ford Field.

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