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: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I have several posts of a spiritual nature, such as “Clinging to God”, and “God’s Waiting Room”.

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A Detroit Tiger Fan Growing Up in HP

Dreaming of Playing for the Detroit Tigers

Dreaming of Playing for the Detroit Tigers

When I was a child the baseball season was a magical time. I would grab my plastic bat and wiffle ball and go out to the back yard. I pretended that I was the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees.  I would throw up the ball in the air and hit it.  If it went over the fence, It was a home run.  If not, it was an out.  I had the lineups of the Tigers and the Yankess memorized.  I still remember Jake Wood (2b) Bill Bruton (CF) Al Kaline (RF) Rocky Colavito (LF) Norm Cash (1B) Chico Fernandez (SS) Dick Brown (C) Steve Boros (3b) and of course Frank Lary, the Yankee Killer was always my favorite pitcher.

1961 Detroit Tigers from Baseball Fever. Com

1961 Detroit Tigers from Baseball Fever. Com

The Detroit Tigers were in my blood already at the early age of six years old. In 1961, the only team that mattered other than the Detroit Tigers were the much hated New York Yankees.  Yes, they had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, but the Tigers had Kaline, Colavito, and Cash.  Unfortunately, the Tigers faded in September and the Yankees went on to the 1961 World Series.

Dad started to take me to the games when I was six years old.  He always liked the $2.00 lower deck reserved seats in section 17 by third base. He also liked the special days, such as Free Ball Day, Free Bat Day, or Picture Day. One time on Picture Day, a free-lance photographer had me stand by Joe Sparma. A couple of weeks later there was my photo in the Highland Parker with Joe Sparma!

Dad had a special tradition about going to the games at Tiger Stadium. He had the idea that we needed to be the first ones there; so that we could get a good parking spot on one of the streets near Tiger Stadium. Dad never parked in one of the parking lots around Tiger Stadium because of the expense. Being early, had its advantages, we could see the grass grow, and then batting practice take place and get settled into our seats. Dad would buy me the fifteen cent program because I liked to keep score of the game.

Dad didn’t believe in spending money on the ballpark food because it was way too expensive. Occasionally, we could buy the popcorn, which came in what looked like a megaphone with the Detroit Tiger symbol on it.

My most exciting time at Tiger Stadium were the few occasions when my cousin was able to get us free tickets for the box seats at the side of the Tiger dugout!  She was Max Fisher’s secretary, and when he wasn’t using the seats, he would give the seats away. We would occasionally be the beneficiaries!  It was great to see all of my favorite players up close, such as Mickey Stanley, Norm Cash, and Bill Freehan.  For some reason, Dad had a strong dislike for Al Kaline, so I never included him as one of my favorites.

Being a Detroit Tiger fan, also meant that I would listen to the Detroit Tigers on WJR.  Ernie Harwell was the best broadcaster.  When he was announcing, it felt as though you were right next to him in the broadcast booth watching the game.  I never knew until I was an adult how he knew that a fan from Kalamazoo, or Muskegon caught the foul ball.  Even when I would spend a week or two in Pennsylvania, I would take my transistor radio to bed with me and listen to the game.  I was glad that WJR had a powerful signal.

The Ernie Harwell of my childhood.

The Ernie Harwell of my childhood.

The highlight for any Tiger fan was 1968.  It was the magical year of Denny McLain winning thirty-one games. The Tigers were the American League champs. The World Series was my total focus. I was glad that the teachers at Ford Middle School brought their televisions to class. We received an education about what it was like to have a team in the World Series.  Mickey Lolich was my hero because of his amazing feat of winning three games in the World Series. Can you imagine a pitcher today starting a World Series game on two days rest!  Lolich did it and won the game against Bob Gibson!

All Tiger Fans remember this!  From PBS. Org

All Tiger Fans remember this! From PBS. Org

After 1969, my interest started to wane a bit in the Detroit Tigers.  Yes, I was glad when they made the playoffs in 1972, but I was a teenager and the magic of the Detroit Tigers had worn off.  I no longer collected baseball cards. I no longer played baseball. I no longer listened to Ernie Harwell. Our trips to Tiger Stadium became very infrequent.  I wonder if Dad missed my enthusiasm for the Tigers. If so, he never told me.

When I became a parent, Dad kept my children in Detroit Tiger gear.  He wanted my children to be Tiger fans as he was all of his life. I am glad to say that all of my children are Detroit Tiger fans.  Yes, I still keep up with them and I am excited with the possibilities of winning another World Series, but the magic of the Detroit Tigers of my childhood is no longer there. However, I am thankful that my Dad made the Detroit Tigers a very special part of my growing up years in Highland Park!

P.S. Please visit my other blog; http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I share spiritual thoughts such as “Does Jesus Care” and “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”.