From the beginning of spring right through the summer, boys being boys meant boys playing baseball. I can remember getting home from school and immediately changing clothes and heading out for baseball. After school let out, it was almost every day. Sometimes it was at a real ball field but as often as not it was in an open vacant lot. We would find whatever was available to use as base markers, sometimes cardboard or small pieces of wood, but we improvised as needed. I was blessed to live in a home right next door to a large vacant lot. Our property line consisted of a long row of mature ligustrum, creating a thick bush backdrop for our ball field. If a ball got by the catcher and went into the thick bushes, it would be found lying on the ground and those thick bushes served as well. What didn't serve us well was when a player, running over from the third base line and attempting to snag a long foul ball, crashed into the ligustrum, sometimes breaking branches or literally stirring up a hornet's nest. And I can also tell you, it didn't serve Mom well either and I was in the doghouse for awhile. But it was fun and we spent hours playing ball, staying out as late as we could. That, of course, wasn't possible on weekdays during the school years as parents were sticklers about getting the homework done.
In those early years, little boys had no idea what the girls did during those times and, frankly, we didn't care. They were the last thing on our minds, but it wasn't long before we noticed girls and the girls noticed boys and, VOILA, an audience of girls would find their way to the old ball game. We, of course, also enjoyed organized baseball, playing in little leagues, church leagues and city recreation leagues, including both baseball and softball, wearing uniforms and imagining we were playing for the Yankees or the Dodgers, or team of our choice. But it was fun, it was healthy and it kept us busy. That was very important to my mom who often reminded me that "an idle mind is the devil's workshop." I guess that's why she put up with us crashing into those bushes for baseball was the least of the problems. Come football season, a missed flying tackle created much more havoc than a baseball. And come to think of it, I can remember telling my own children that line about the devil many years later.
Looking back at those times and comparing them to today, I am saddened when I drive by so many wonderful playgrounds that are not being used routinely. The sporting events are still seen on the weekends in organized games, but the old sandlot variety, playing in vacant lots and on school yards is just not seen very much these days. The elimination of so much routine athletics on the fly, often replaced by video games certainly can be seen in more obesity in children today than ever before. I know it's a different time with different concerns today since we never had to worry about schoolyard shooting or drug sellers hanging around playgrounds. Oh, yes, there was perhaps the occasional pervert showing up, but parents always were able to take care of those things usually without violence but by making others aware and the culprit usually disappeared. And if that didn't work, the police who were always respected by kids and adults handled it in a jiff. Those were the days, my friends and I thought they'd never end but, alas, they did. But at least those of us who experienced them have the memories. They live on within us.