In his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium the great Babe Ruth referred to "baseball, the only true sport there is in the world." Back in the 1950's we believed in the Babe
During the 50's "America's Team" was the Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, Brooklyn). To this day I can still name most of the starting players from their 1952 lineup. My hero was the catcher, Roy Campanella (whom I learned just today was only the second Black player in the major leagues). The first game I ever attended at Sportsman's Park (later Busch Stadium I) was between the Cardinals and the Dodgers. My dad explained the Brooklyn "Bums" had already mathematically won the pennant.
For Christmas a few years later I received a full set of catcher's gear. I kept that stuff for years, always dreaming I'd someday be a professional ballplayer. And, because I had my own gear, I did get to catch. It was a good position for me, too. I could hit pretty good; there is always a place for a hitter. And, I could hardly run at all -- slow afoot being deemed an attribute in a catcher. Trouble is I also had what we quasi-professional athletes prefer to call a "glass arm." I could barely throw back to the pitcher. As I could hit, I ended up where all good-hit-no-field players go -- first base.
At least once a week a bunch of us would get enough together to play some kind of baseball on the "sandlot" behind my house. If the "big kids" wanted to play we'd all walk the 6-plus blocks and play on the athletic field of a local Catholic High School. One of the guys found out this field was almost the same dimensions as those of Sportsman's Park. I always got picked; there were only three of us who could hit a ball out for a home run. There were three ground rules: If you hit it over the fence you had to look for it; don't go home hurt unless you're bleeding; and girls could only watch.
On one of the cable news stations last week was a story of some kids in the Boston area who had on their own cleared a vacant lot and put up plywood walls to make a Wiffle Ball field (yep, Wiffle Ball!). The boys and girls in the report were pre-teen to late teen agers. They had cleared away the weeds and made their "field" look like the Boston Brave's Fenway Park. Someone complained: Too much noise; no building permits; no adult supervision; and -- worst of all -- no insurance. The city fathers sent bulldozers to tear it down. [How the extra gas for the equipment fit into the city budget, or who was going to keep the lot clean in the future, was not revealed.].
In Sunday's paper there was an article on the decline of "sandlot" (that is, unorganized) baseball. Apparently there is now an organization dedicated to organizing unorganized sandlot games. Maybe it loses something in the translation. Parents are still willing to buy their kids to stuff to play whatever sport it is. Parents will even pay for lessons. What nobody seems to want are ball games with: Too much noise; no building permits; no adult supervision; and -- worst of all -- no insurance.
They say baseball became a business when the Dodgers deserted Brooklyn and went to Los Angeles for the big bucks. I'm just glad I grew up learning to play, fight, suffer, win and lose back when it was a game.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.