A makeshift baseball diamond crammed between two houses sprung to mind recently while reading a news story on Little League baseball.
It was as if I had returned to my dream days of fantasy baseball. Back when I could close my eyes and imagine knocking the ball out of the ballpark. Of course, I was just 10 years old and the ballpark wasn’t very big.
For me, those days were truly golden.
“Chuck it right in here, Babe!” Nelly would shout as he squatted down behind a pie-tin home plate and loudly slapped his raggedy catcher’s mitt.
I would go dramatically into my unorthodox windup and hurl my fastest of fast balls. The baseball usually sailed out-of-control over Nelly’s head and into the neighbor’s lawn. Nelly immediately unleashed a few expletives, threw down his mitt and chased after the errant missile.
Those were the days of unorganized baseball, back in the early 1950s. We kids comprised the whole shooting match – players, coaches, officials and fans. About the only time parents got involved was to settle accounts over a broken window or soothe neighborly relations following the discovery of trampled flowers.
Sure, there were a few grownups misguided enough to think they could improve things, but that usually didn’t last long.
Then along came Dale Ellsworth. He was the only parent demented enough to think he could transform our unruly gang into the semblance of an actual team. He had evidently been blessed with an extraordinary abundance of ambition and an obscene amount of patience.
Dale found us an actual baseball diamond to play on and worked with us almost every afternoon for an entire summer season. He put in an unbelievable amount of time trying to teach us the finer points of baseball. He worked with each of us on how to field the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball. It was something parents rarely took the time to do back then.
Sure, many fathers would play ball with their sons on an occasional weekend, but that was just part of a family experience and wasn’t taken very seriously.
A few years later everything changed. Organized youth baseball became the norm. As soon as a kid was old enough to hold a bat, there was some sort of league for him or her to join.
Fast forward to today. It would seem that we have graduated to the point that almost everyone remotely related (and not related) to the young ballplayer gets involved in the sport.
Little League baseball is taken so seriously that fist- fights can erupt between parents as they cheer their kids to victory; volunteer officials have had their lives threatened due to a disputed call and volunteer coaches can be shunned by the parents of the very kids the coaches are trying to help.
I imagine there was many times when Dale probably wished he had more help. He spent a great deal of time chasing down foul balls and working on the diamond in between innings.
Then again, maybe Dale was wise enough to know that being the only grownup involved wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to him.
(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times.)