From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Back When

Family life is the basis for a strong community and a great nation.

Bing Crosby

It was an American tradition—a real, honest-to-goodness game of sandlot baseball—and it was being revived. Gone were the uniforms and the uniformed children, identical in age and size. Gone were the tension-ridden parents overseeing the nerve-racking games. Gone were the agitated umpires, managers, assistant managers and assistant-assistant managers. Gone were the scheduled “time-outs” while harried officials consulted section B of article 2 of part 1 of the ever-so-official rule book.

It was wonderful! We held an old-time, Saturday afternoon softball game. We had invited twenty friends and neighbors to come; twenty-five showed up, hesitantly eager to play. Just minutes after the game began a carload of strangers slowed to watch, and then asked if they could join the fun. The players were men and women, boys and girls, ranging in age from eight to sixty-eight.

“You’re out!”

“No, I’m not!”

“I said you’re out!”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

It was good old-fashioned democracy in action.

“I don’t see too well without my glasses,” explained the guy who had been my neighbor for ten years and whose conversation had consisted of tight-lipped greetings. “You take first,” he said to my son, “and I’ll go way out in the field so I won’t mess up an important play.” It was teamwork because the individual wanted to do what was best for the team, not because some coach was shoving “teamwork” down his throat. When one oldster got tired, he sent a youngster in to relieve him, while he sat on a haystack and sipped some refreshment. Nobody kept score. Everybody kept score. Nobody cared what inning it was, and the game ended when there was no one left who wasn’t too tired to play. Best of all, everybody had a grand time and went away wanting to do it again.

I have silently watched progress replace country roads with freeways and corner grocery stores with sterile supermarkets. But something in me hesitated to accept progress when organized Little League games started replacing spontaneous neighborhood softball games.

It is not just nostalgia. It is a memory revived and brought to life for a gathering of friends and family. But I feel just a little sad that a scene so interwoven with my childhood and the childhoods of so many Americans has become a novelty in this country. What happened to that empty lot that used to be on everybody’s block?

Audrey Curran

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