I haven’t been there since high school. The sandlot. We didn’t call it that, though. For us it was an actual baseball field, with a fence and all. Sometimes there were even real bases, but more often than not, a piece of cardboard sufficed. If it was big enough, you tore it in half and made first and second out of it. Anyone who brought an extra glove usually had to sacrifice it for the day and let it be third base. Third base, because it would get stepped on less there. Respect the leather.
The Little League field was an easy walk from my house, so I was always there. But we were rural, so attendance was sketchy. You only need 6 guys to show up for a real sandlot game; 4 if Chuck’s sister was there. Not only was Kathy the best athlete in the neighborhood, but she didn’t mind being permanent pitcher for both teams. She didn’t care about ups. I hope. I don’t remember asking if she wanted to bat, but she would have said so if she did. An infielder and an outfielder is all you’d need. Split the field in half; if a right-handed batter hits it to right field, he’s out. Unless it clears the fence. Home runs count to all fields. Lefties are barely tolerated, as no one who plays 5 hours of baseball has time to walk from left to right field to play defense. If you really want to annoy people, switch hit during the same at bat. (Lookin’ at you, me) Pitcher’s mound is poison. A ground ball to the infielder gets thrown to the pitcher, on the mound. He or she catches it before you cross first base, you’re out. You want to hear boo birds? Get thrown out at the mound by the outfielder.
Remember ghost runners? Ghost runners were the best. They didn’t hog the water. They never pulled muscles, never went home early because it looked like rain, never asked for do-overs. They weren’t speed demons, those ghost runners. A ghost runner doesn’t score from second base on a single; they only advance as far as the nearest proximal (new word-I like it. Sounds like legal-speak) human runner. But if you only had two guys to a team, they were invaluable. If you had the bases loaded, that meant there were ghost runners on second and third. Unless you left your base without calling “ghost runner on second!” That was an out. Ghost runners couldn’t stick up for themselves.
We kept a tally of our season’s home runs with a piece of chalk on the dugout wall. I always expected the Little League teams to wipe them off or somehow mess them up, but they were always there. Maybe they didn’t figure out what they were; sometimes it makes no sense to deface something if you don’t know what it is.
We didn’t play nine inning games. We played games until supper or darkness. If someone left, a team was short a man. If 2 guys left, and we still had 4, a line-up shuffle might be needed to even out the teams, but we still played. We didn’t have a field with lights, but I know we would have thought playing under them was the greatest thing in the world. I’m sure games would have lasted until morning. Or until angry parents showed up looking for us. “Hey Kathy, it’s been 67 innings. You ok?” “Gimme the ball!”
I think about pickup baseball every time – every single time – I drive past a neighborhood ball field. Sometimes, I’m pretty sure I see ghost runners standing on base. They can’t run on their own, ghost runners; they have to be forced to the next base. They watch me as I go by, ready to score that all-important 82nd run. I think they miss me. I know I miss them.
So, what’s everyone doing this weekend. And who wants to pitch?