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Baseball wasn’t always so organized

Although it doesn’t always feel like it, spring is here and with it comes BASEBALL.

It looks like it’s going to be another typical season. The players continue to get headlines for their large salaries and lack of production; the owners keep complaining about the salaries as they trade for even higher-salaried players; the fans seem to dislike the officiating as much as ever and the Cubs are hanging tough at the bottom of the National League Central Division.

A few weeks ago there were several videos of very important people attempting to throw out baseballs to kick off the season. Now you see millionaire baseball players chasing after multimillionaire pitchers after they’ve been hit with pitches.

Soon the high school teams will be busy preparing for the summer sports season. It may be hard for them to find a diamond to practice on however, because they all seem to be filled with younger players who are already playing.

Naturally all this reminds me of days gone by. Back to a time when baseball was more than a game, it was an important part of life.

Rolling the clock back 60 years or so I can still see a blur of boys exiting school after a boring day. Time was precious – even back then! There were things to be done and not much time to do them. Important things like staking claim to the school ball diamond before any of the big kids. Trouble was that claim never lasted long. In the pecking order of unorganized baseball, fifth and sixth graders are as close to the bottom as one can get. Getting shoved off the “real” diamond was nothing unusual.

That’s when creative imagination came to bat. We’d simply move our game to another location. There seemed to be a limited number of possibilities when it came to a place to play baseball.

Often our playing field was directly related to the number of available players. With just a few players available a little-used streets was sometimes taken over. If there were enough to make up two teams of five or more, we’d pick a good-sized patch of grass, usually someone’s back yard.

Truthfully, lawns weren’t that easy to come by. Not that there weren’t quite a few around, it was simply that after a game or two we’d wear out our welcome.

It didn’t take much to cause problems: some missing turf near home plate or a stray foul ball through a nearby window was all it took to get chased off.

But lack of a playing surface wasn’t our only problem. Other dilemmas included too few players and lack of equipment.

Lack of manpower caused a lot of head-scratching. A big game might start off with a dozen or so players but that number would often dwindle fast.

As soon as a mother or two had located the contest problems would soon develop. “Jimmy, you get home right now and clean up your room!” or “Curtis, your father left orders for you to carry out the clinkers.”

Before we realized what was taking place, the teams had shrunk from a dozen players to just the three or four whose mothers hadn’t yet discovered the location of the game.

This would call for some drastic changes. One answer to the problem was to do away with nonessential players.

The side of a shed could replace the catcher. We’d simply move the game back until the batter was next to a solid wall. If he missed the ball it would hit the wall and the batter would throw it back to the pitcher.

Outfielders were another luxury (few were the times when we’d hit a ball hard enough to get it out of the infield, anyway.) If worse came to worse, we’d recruit a kid sister or brother to chase an occasional long ball.

Yes, those were the good old days all right. Long before batting helmets, metal bats and Little League.

It was a time when pitchers threw whatever they could get their hands on and batters took their lives into their own hands by just stepping up to the plate.

(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times, a sister paper to the Nevada Journal. Rood lives in Cambridge.)

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