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The Boys of Summer

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The Boys of Summer

And what I learned from baseball

 

When I was a runt, and even before that, I had very little knowledge of what girls did in the summertime. I was always too busy to notice, being intent on keeping up with my two older brothers who were like my very own ‘previews of coming attractions.’  Whatever they were up to somehow soon enough ended up on my plate. Forewarned is forearmed as the saying goes (not to be confused with getting “forearmed” fer gettin’ too close to the plot line while yer lips were in motion).

I learned by their victories and most indelibly by their mistakes. I learned to avoid the backhand, the welt, the belt, the hangar, the hangover, car wrecks and STDs.

In most cases, prudence warns off things like bloodshed and sufferin’, but it also deprives one, if over used, of all those cool memories prudes don’t get that are acquired when near death, dismemberment and/or public humiliation. I went for the blended approach, not too much of this, not too much of that. A little dab’ll do ya through the salad bar of life, as small amounts of scar tissue go a long, long way (title to a song I’m writing).

I never broke a bone (although I did crack a few ribs during my second childhood), or lost more than four square inches of skin at any one time, or got throw’d in jail. Okay, I admit I was real lucky in all those categories. I was also real lucky to be a kid in the 50s and 60s, to be sure.

Back in the day... when you could still enjoy activities of the soul without raising a lot of eyebrows or causing some kind of intervention by one organization or another.  I mean, somehow I can’t see fifteen to thirty grade-schoolers reenacting the battles of Bull Run, Antietam or the Little Bighorn on a nice sunny afternoon these days without a SWAT team being deployed to safeguard the public demeanor. Things have changed.

We never lacked for ways to fill our days. Fun on the run! Burnin’ through summer vacation like meteors through the atmosphere. Some of the things we used to do that you just don’t see anymore include marbles (my first lesson in profit and loss), rock throwin’, champeenship rock throwin’, tag, tag with rocks, hide and seek, hide and seek with rocks, just plain hidin’, gettin’ dirty, gettin’ someone else dirty researching new and cool ways to offend or startle adults that don’t happen to know yer folks or can otherwise trace your lineage in such a small town, riding bikes, comparing likes, sharing dislikes, swapping lies, mublety-peg, water balloon battles, nothin’, and my favorite by far on a summer day: Work-ups. My second favorite was messin’ with tourists heads, of which there were many.

Work-ups is baseball without teams, uniforms, umpires, coaches, jeering sections, stress or parents on Prozac and beer. Just kids, mitts, bats, balls and free time!

Without the benefit of cell phones, the word would go out in our little hamlet that a “session” was forming. The first four or five to arrive would start off with some ‘flies up’ until there was enough to man a full diamond and outfield as well as three or four batters.

Kids could fade in and out at will to do chores or take leaks. No scores, no arguments. Everyone was an umpire so the consensus ruled. Even bad-asses couldn’t get away with anything! We got to experience the whole game, from right field to catcher, learning and growing as we went. Offense and defense in a ‘musical chairs’ sort of way.

If you caught a fly ball, you traded places with the batter. Otherwise, if you struck out or got tagged, you went out to right field and ‘worked’ yer way back ‘up’ again.

If the weather went to crap, as it often did, there was no unfinished business, no inning half over and no score to settle. Just happy kids running for cover (and something to eat).

It didn’t require batteries, computer skills, parental guidance, money or transportation or even lawyers. It burned calories, built character, strong bones and inner strength, forged friendships, taught patience and humility as well as heroism, tenacity and the value of effort.

We learned how to throw, catch, run, hit, spit, pitch and pay attention. How to strike out an older brother and not get a bloody nose. How to catch a line drive with yer mitt and not your mouth. How to land on an imaginary base and convince everyone else you did, too. How to sprint, slide, zig, zag or even strut if you got walked or managed to nail one past the outfield line. And how to act like a sport if you didn’t make it back home. Come to think of it, I learned a lot of new and useful cuss words here as well.

One also learned how to approach the plate, hock a respectable loogie, plant yer sneakers, size up the outfield and pitcher and decide where you might want to put his next throw if it comes across the way you like it. How to look cool in right field if it doesn’t and not do much at all until you rotate to center field, then left, where you can easily find plenty of action with the possibility of returning to bat if you catch one before it touches the grass. And especially how each position in the infield is unique in its relationship to the game, giving out lessons in forced outs, double and triple plays, bruises, bunts, stunts and confusion.

How to focus, as catcher, on a 50-mile-per-hour white dot coming home from deep center and at the same time gauging the impending doom of a runner 50 pounds your senior and startin’ to shave already who’s drawin’ a bead on yer butt with an outstretched Vibram sole.

How to stand on the mound with ‘presence’ even when you don’t think you belong there and know in your heart that you’d better not blow it. How to not only look your equal in the eye but also some dude in size eleven sneakers and still in the seventh grade and even though the look on his face shows he wants to part your hair with the ball you’re holding, you convince yourself not to walk him. You figure that you only live (and die) once and, therefore, while you are there, you may as well learn how to ‘slide one past’ someone who least expects it.

And when you do, you’ll discover it was worth all the rib jabs, bruised shins, burned calories, dislocated fingers, road rash, sweat and green knees encountered along the way.

 

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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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recreation, baseball, humor

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