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”.