Sandlot Baseball Filled the Day for Kids

By Greg Eno, The Baseball Page.Com

Somewhere, surely there was a boy last summer with a baseball glove dangling from the handlebar of his bicycle, on his way to a hastily put together, loosely organized version of our national pastime.

Sandlot kids team

Somewhere a gaggle of fellow boys -- friends, acquaintances and even strangers -- found an empty diamond and quickly picked teams and went at it under the mid-day sun, and into dusk.

Someone brought a bat, someone brought a ball, right field was out, and depending on the rules established, the game was "pitcher's hand", or "pitcher's mound."

Perhaps a foul ball on strike three was a strikeout. An empty potato chip bag, held down with a brick, might have been one of the bases.

They played for hours, until the light of day abandoned them, leaving the boys alone on the pebble-filed diamond, giving each other assurances that the interrupted game WILL continue.

This was, of course, in addition to the "real" games that were played under the auspices of Little League -- those matches on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, played out before parents on lawn chairs and interested passer's by who parked their bikes or wandered over from their nightly walk to take in an inning or two -- or more.

Surely this must go on, somewhere in America.

I still see the occasional Little League drama play out as I drive by a local ball field, but I sure am not seeing the kid on his bicycle with the glove on the handlebar.

Two boys on sandlot

Tell me that still happens. Lie to me, if necessary.

Big league ballplayers have been at it since age five or six, likely. So even as rookies they've been playing organized baseball of some sort for about 20 years.

The fun doesn't go away, apparently. And that's a good thing.

But WAS there a boy last year, cruising the neighborhood on his bike, looking to scare up a game of mini-baseball?

I sure hope so because I didn't see one last summer, or the summer before that.

Do boys even own baseball gloves anymore? Surely they do, but I'm not seeing them.

Growing up in Livonia in the 1970s, before parents had to pray their kids would make it home from school safely, the bicycle for my pals and me was basically a car for kids.

Your bike kind of defined you, as cars do for adults. The bike wasn't just a mode of transportation. Kids would compare bikes, like the men do when they look under the hoods.

One of the accessories was the old baseball card attached to the spokes with a cloth spin thing. You know, so when you pedaled, the card would make a cool sound as it was abused, spoke-by-spoke.

Choosing sides

A good summer's day for us kids meant some sort of truncated, hurried-through breakfast, a brief announcement to mom that you were out the door to play, and oh by the way -- I'll see you around dinner time, maybe.

And our moms would nod, tell us to be careful and they wouldn't be worried about our well being for the entire day. Heck, it was one less thing to be bothered with.

We wore many hats at the ball field, we kids did. We were general manager, manager, player, radio announcer and PA announcer, even trainer. "Walk it off!" was our usual medical advice.

We were GMs because we had to choose teams (personnel). We were managers because someone had to construct a batting order. We played, of course. And we announced.

"Two outs! Imaginary runner on third! 4-3 you guys!" was a typical announcement when the next batter strode to the plate. The scenario had to be reset, batter to batter.

Speaking of batters, there were two schools of thought when it came to hitting. Some kids had their own batting stance, while others would mimic those of their favorite players. I liked to be Norm Cash, even though he was a lefty and I wasn't.

Oh, and we were our own umpires, which would cause the occasional spat.

Rarely did we have enough kids to man an entire outfield, so right field was out. Unless a left-handed hitter was up; then left field was out. You hit the ball to a field that was out, and you were … OUT. No umpiring needed there. No arguments there.

Sandlot outfielder

The big decision was, "pitcher's hand" or "pitcher's mound"; big difference, big decision.

The former meant that the baseball need only be in the pitcher's glove (or hand) before the runner reached first base in order to record the out. The latter meant that the pitcher not only needed the ball, but he needed to be standing on the mound as well.

The "mound," by the way, was simply a rubber slab on flat ground.

So these loosey-goosey games would carry on all day. Throughout, there was attrition. Churn. A couple of guys would leave. A couple more would take their place -- stragglers who were cruising around the schools and parks, looking for a game. They were like pool hustlers that way.

If you didn't secure replacements right away, you played shorthanded, which meant that, maybe, a team would have to provide its own pitcher. It also meant that the bases would be crawling with imaginary runners. A batting order was maybe sliced down to four people.

But it was baseball. It was three outs per half inning, three strikes and you're out and the umpire was, as former big league arbiter Dave Pallone once told me, "Maybe not always right, but never wrong."

At the end of the day, when it was too dark to safely see the ball, we hopped back on our bikes and rode home, where mom was waiting with dinner. "How was the game?" she'd ask. "What's for dinner?" we'd reply.

Tell me this still happens.

A sandlot field

All of Greg Eno's posts can be found on --; Photographs from the movie "The Sandlot"; The Sun Chronicle; and Sandlot Baseball Camp in Bayonne

Sandlot Baseball Was A Hit

By Marty Relles, Valley Community Newspapers

Before Little League Baseball, before Pony League, before Babe Ruth League, on Janey Way in Sacramento, California, we had sandlot baseball. We began by playing catch on the street with rubberized baseballs, but that soon failed to satisfy our need for real competition. So we searched for a place to make a field. That was easy.

Kids arrive on bicycles at sandlot field

Almost exactly in the middle of Janey Way, butting up to the pit stood two adjacent empty lots. They made a perfect sandlot baseball field. From front to back they measured 140 feet and from side to side, 120 feet. The sidewalk marked the official end of the field, but we still played balls that went past the sidewalk and into the street.

To avoid breaking windows on the west side of the street we used soft rubber baseballs. Batters used two old bats of my father's (he played amateur baseball). We used considerable ingenuity in constructing our sandlot baseball field.

In the spring, after the City Fire Department burned the dry grass on the lots, construction began. We made a home plate by placing a square piece of cardboard on the southeast corner of the lots. We then scratched out a left field line running west on the south side of the field and a right field line running north on the east side of the field.

First base, a brick, stood a regulation Little League distance 60 feet from home plate. We placed second base on a straight line 60 feet west of first base, and third base 60 feet south of second base. We built a pitcher's mound by piling dirt 45 feet from home plate. Voila, we had our sandlot baseball field.

Play begins at sandlot field

The rules of our sandlot baseball differed slightly from official baseball rules. For one thing, teams included only four players: a pitcher, a first baseman, an infielder and an outfielder. We played only two fields, right and center for left-handers, left and center for right-handers. The opposing team provided the catcher.

Games lasted nine innings or until lunchtime. We had no fences, so to hit a home run you had to hit a ball past the outfielder and get around all the way to home plate without being thrown out. This made for some close calls at home plate, but we rarely fought over those calls.

Since we had no umpires, agreement had to be reached on all calls before the game could proceed. The outfielder had to be very careful to avoid gopher holes while chasing down fly balls. Infielders often took bad bounces off their chins due to the unevenness of the field, but this was our only field so we took the bad with the good. We had many great games on our sandlot baseball field.

Today on Janey Way, no empty lots remain. Our sandlot baseball field has long since disappeared. Kids play little league baseball on M street, right around the corner from Janey Way. But, whenever I walk north on the street from my family house, I often reminisce about our sandlot baseball field.

It represented a product of our ingenuity, a testament to our ability to make something out of nothing so we could play baseball and compete, another lasting Janey Way memory.

E-mail Marty Relles at; Photographs by Design; and appstate.educ/Storyboard

Bringing Back Pick-up Baseball Games

By Dave "Skip" Holt, Coach and Play

There was a day when sandlot baseball and pick-up games were the way players developed their skills. We have moved a long way from free-play style games and now rarely does a ball player ever play outside the umbrella of organized leagues and tournaments.

Sandlot baseball at a park playground

Let us look at why baseball players have moved away from sandlot baseball and also at the possibilities of bringing back pick-up games.

The biggest reason might be parents. So many parents look at youth baseball as a vehicle to a college scholarship or a steppingstone to a pro contract. We have shown the chances of playing baseball past high school and it is not really in the players favor. Instead of parents looking to baseball as a personal growth experience they have visions of stardom in their heads.

Another reason might be fear. Parents often are afraid to let young kids out of sight much less let them meet down at the local playground to play ball unsupervised.

Forty or fifty years ago parents did not worry about their kids going to the sandlot and playing ball all day. Now, you're afraid to let them go around the corner.

Why bring sandlot games back?

Ball and Glove

Young baseball players need practice and repetitions. There is just no way to get around it.

Take a look at a young player in the Dominican Republic that spends a day at the sandlot. He might have 15 or 20 at bats, numerous chances fielding grounders, fly balls, throwing plays, and several base running turns.

Our baseball America players here in the United States play around three games a week. If they are lucky they might get 4 at bats per game. Over a month long period that would give them around 48 at bats. The number is probably less because so many of our coaches encourage players to draw a walk.

The Dominican kid playing three times a week might end up with over 200 at bats per month. He also played without a parent criticizing him on the way home and a coach hollering at his every little boo-boo all day.

Why do you think so many of the world's best players come from a small little poor Latin island in the Carribean Sea? Could it be that the unorganized baseball model is working better than our organized model?

At first base

Count the Contacts

Next time you are at the ballpark count how many times your child or each child throws the baseball, catches the baseball and swings the bat.

From the moment the players arrive until they pack up and leave, they keep tabs on each baseball contact.

Now if the player is the pitcher or catcher then the number is going to be rather high. All the other players will be rather low.

Many players who only play a couple innings will have minimal contacts with the baseball. They would have been far better off staying at home and playing a half hour of catch with dad and playing a waffle ball game with their friends.

Sandlot baseball gives everyone the same playing time and a chance to play multiple positions. The sandlot games are fast moving so hitters can bat more often.

For more, go to; Photographs by Coach and Play; and

Sandlot Baseball Joy is Still Forever

By Bill McCurdy, weblog

The sandlot baseball way of life was pretty much the same for generations. As kids, we played the game of baseball for as long as we could, each summer day, from dawn to dusk, wherever the grounds were empty, or the streets were not too busy, using whatever equipment we had, or could find, or could repair back into service.

Sandlot ball

The foot wear needs were the easiest, most natural acquirement. We all played shoeless, working against the early pain of converting our shoe-bound school feet into the calloused bare ground-talons that could handle both the heat and hard banging that awaited us in everything from concrete, street tar patches, rocks, and all those slivers of discarded glass and metal trash on our field of glory, Eagle Field at Japonica and Myrtle in Pecan park, in the Houston East End, just south of Griggs Road on the left of the Gulf Freeway as you drive toward Galveston from downtown.

We used everything we could find for home plate: concrete chunks, tee shirts, two by fours, old license plates, and once only, a pillow case that someone's mom left hanging on a clothes line. The last option quickly proved itself a bad choice, particularly for our donor teammate. It was back to concrete and larger rocks.

I personally preferred the flat concrete items. They often looked more like the real home plate and they stayed ii one place. Tee shirts were too easy to kick toward third base for a closer plough into home by some people of lesser character.

We had no uniforms or caps - and real team jerseys and tee shirts just weren't available to us teeming mass kids, if to anyone of the post World War II era. One time, a friend of mine from school came over for a visit in the summer after his family had returned from a vacation trip north that took them through St. Louis. He was wearing a Cardinals cap - a real Cardinals cap.

Baseball at Eagle Park

The Pecan Park Eagles were simply green with envy. How does anybody from anywhere near our little corner of the world manage to get a real Cardinals cap? "My dad got it from me" didn't seem to solve the mystery for any of us. How does even a dad from our place get the Cardinals to sell him one of their real caps?

Our gloves were the cheap or hand-me-down kind, although some of us worked and saved the eight dollars it took for a Rawlings Playmaker at Holt's Sporting Goods in downtown Houston. That's what I did.

I just wish I could have saved it before my dad threw it and other things away while I was in college, but I didn't wake up to their absence soon enough to save the items of my childhood that were important to me.

Our baseballs were the cheapo type that didn't stay round for long. When we got hold of a real baseball, it stayed with us until the cover practically wore away. In came the black electric tape to keep the ball in play forever, if possible. We also used the tape, along with small nails and hammers, to repair broken bats that still had hits in them. Of course, we did. Every sandlotter did.

Today is May 1st. Sixty-five years ago, we would have been about a month shy of the everyday sandlot season and I still miss it. Guess I'll just dive into the memories that make me grateful that it launched my association between baseball and joy.

The joy of baseball is forever, something to be protected against the assaults of ego and greed that crawl all over the walls of our adult world meanderings, offering nothing sweet, and everything sour.

Thank you, memories of the sandlot, for always reminding me where so many of us fell in love with the great game of baseball. May you live on forever in our hearts - in the company of those who share that same incomparable joy.

Photographs by Sir, The Art of Colby Jones; and Word

Kids' Pickup Baseball Games Rekindle Fond Memories

By Larry A. Hicks, Sports Columnist, The York Dispatch

Twice in one week, I received e-mails from readers who observed youngsters playing baseball in a city park without any adult supervision or involvement. And get this - the kids were actually having fun. This is truly reason for celebration as far as I'm concerned. You don't see that anymore. Not often anyhow.

Boces Field baseball

I've written about the phenomenon several times over the years to make the point that one of the highlights of my youthful existence in a small town - the daily pickup baseball games (football and basketball, too, in season) including kids old enough or big enough to take part - had just about gone the way of the trolley car and black-and-white TVs.

That meant 7-year-olds playing alongside 16-year-olds. It meant five players on a team playing baseball. It meant making up some of our own rules - balls hit to right field were automatic outs, for example, and the pitcher had to match his pitches to the skill level of the hitter so that everyone had a chance to hit the ball. No strikeouts, no walks and no bunting.

It meant playing on a baseball diamond meant for baseball, or a softball diamond meant for softball, or a farmer's field after a crop was harvested - whichever was available on a given day. It meant playing pickle-in-the-middle on those days when you only had three players, or playing pepper when you only had two.

And you know what, it all worked out fine. We never knew any different, so we did the best we could with what we had to work with, anything to play baseball.

Bu then - I don't know exactly when, the '70s or '80s, I guess - youth baseball changed, for the worse. All of a sudden kids stopped playing baseball unless adults were involved. Everything had to be scheduled, arranged, organized, and official. Before, kids were happy to play baseball in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt. But suddenly, they had to have uniforms, spikes and team caps.

They also had to have a banquet at the end of each season so every child could take home a trophy and assorted doodads as evidence of a job well done.

Kids, it seemed to me, had lost touch with the joy of playing baseball just for the sake of playing baseball.


Well, what goes around can sometimes come back around if you give it enough time, I guess. Because twice within the last week, I've seen kids playing pickup baseball, in city parks, without needing or seeking out permission from adults to do it.

On Monday - another day of school, perhaps - I happened to notice as I drove past Babe Ruth Field (otherwise known as Noonan Field) on Parkway Boulevard, that there were some youngsters playing baseball.

I was so excited to see it, I actually stopped to watch. Then I couldn't help but walk closer, so that I could hear the kids talk to each other, listen to the banter.

I stood there for about an hour watching the game, not saying anything, not wanting to say anything. Memories of those special times 45-50 years ago came flooding back. Those were the days when Ed, Tom, Chuck, Rodney, Andrew, my brother Steve, Dean, Bap and Bob would gather for a game.

It was no different Monday. Kids of different ages, different sizes and skill levels were all playing together with a blend of official baseball rules and their own rules, fit for the circumstances. No coaches were necessary. No umpires needed.

The kids made all the player decisions - who played, which position, who hit in which spot in the lineup. And they made the safe, out, fair and foul calls, too.

There was a slab of rock at first base and two discarded car tires as second and third bases. Not every child had his own glove, so they shared, just like they did in the very earliest days of professional baseball.

One way or another, these youngsters were determined to play baseball just for the joy of it. And it was a wonderful thing to see.

Photographs by York Dispatch; and The Saratogian

How to Set Up a Sandlot Baseball Game

Skills and procedures needed to get a sandlot game started

By R.J. Licata, Peter Pan Fan

I know I’m not the first person to bring this up, nor will I be the last, but I want to know what happened to all the neighborhood sandlot games. Our activity of choice was playing rather than watching – exercising our legs and arms and lungs rather than our thumbs and our mouths. Unfortunately, their ignorance of the true meaning of play is so lost on them that they don’t know what they’re missing.

Some of the blame belongs with their parents, first, for not showing kids how to play. Just like anything else, this is something they need to be taught. For all the effort that’s spent on coddling, protecting, defending and showcasing their children, why can’t some be spent showing them how to have a healthy, good time outside?

Sandlot Kids

As a new father I should probably include myself in this group, but because my son is only six months old, I’m not prepared to take a full share of the blame just yet. When he gets older I will make sure he knows what a pickup game is and I’ll show him how to round up his buddies to participate.

From the time I was eight or nine, up until I was about 15, I was a master at organizing neighborhood games. But the real reason I bring this up is to make a point. As I look back now, I’m amazed at all the things I learned by taking on this task. Think about the different hats I wore just trying to get a game of baseball organized.

Much of our summers and weekends were spent pretty much how Bo described in his article on childhood nostalgia. There was a lot of carefree time-wasting, but when it was time to get down to business, we knew what we needed to do.

Setting up a Sandlot Game Just for fun let’s take a look at the procedures we had to go through to get a sandlot game off the ground. The skills we developed parlayed into real-world tasks.

Step 1. Determine the Game (Event Planner) Usually with help from Bo, and whoever else I happened to be with when the idea to play came up, we’d determine what sport or game we were going to play. Our arsenal was pretty vast, but we usually chose from the sports common to sandlots across the country – baseball, football, basketball, whiffle ball, kickball – or some variation of them.

Once we decided on a game, we’d figure out when we wanted to start (usually immediately) and try to find the best place to do it (usually one of a handful of parks or fields in our neighborhood). After we set the details, it was time for step 2.

Step 2. Gather the Players (Promoter) There’s no sense moving on any further until you knew you had the participants. We’d go through our Rolodex of friends, acquaintances and rivals until we had enough players to field a decent game. Often this meant sweet-talking our friends, and sometimes even their parents, to get enough warm bodies.

I swear nobody could sugar-coat a pickup game better than me. In my day, I was like the Don King of the sandlot leagues. “You have to be home in an hour for dinner? No problem, we’ll keep the clock running.” “You’re supposed to be studying? I’ll read you your flashcards between innings.” “You’re tired of your son coming home with grass stains on his pants? Mrs. Otis, I promise I won’t let him get dirty.’ Of course, most of my promises weren’t kept, but that’s why I compare myself to Don King and not your local wedding planner. You come to me wanting a sandlot game, you are going to get a sandlot game.

Step 3. Set up the Field/Court (Field Maintenance Technician) Just because we refer to them as “sandlot” games doesn’t mean they necessarily had to be played on a sandlot. We played on all surfaces, pretty much whatever was available at the time. In the street, in someone’s backyard, at the park – wherever there was enough open room for our game. Now, it seems like parents have taken the “let’s get our kids off the streets” mantra a little too literally.

Youth batter and catcher

Many times when we got to the location of our upcoming game there would be some sort of an issue we’d have to handle. If there was snow, we’d shovel it. If the grass was too long, we would borrow a mower. If something needed moving, we’d move it. There wasn’t much that could keep up from playing once we got to this point.

Once the surface was acceptable, we’d quickly determine boundaries, ground rules and anything else that needed to be decided based on fields/courts and their obstructions. This was all done in a matter of moments. Again, we were very good at what we did.

Step 4. Choosing Teams (General Manager) We picked them by using captains. And yes, someone got picked last. If you didn’t like it, you did one of two things, played your ass off so you didn’t get picked last next time, or you didn’t come back again.

Getting picked last builds character – if you let it. Plus, it was the fool-proof way to prevent complaints that teams were uneven. Every once in a while we’d pair up match-ups and break the teams up that way, but for the most part we’d use the old-fashioned, time-tested method and pick ‘um.

Step 5. Playing the Game (Coach) Play-caller, motivator, strategist. We all got to be all of the above and it was great. I learned as much, if not more, about the ins and outs of sports strategy by playing them, either organized or pickup, as I did watching them on TV.

Speaking of TV, there was no greater cause for wanting to go out and play yourself, than watching a game on TV. When I was younger, I could barely get through a full game before I was itching to gather up some friends for our own game. Now kids just dial up their buddy via Xbox Live and “throw” the old ball around with them. It doesn’t even make me angry anymore. Now it’s just sad.

Step 6. Settling Disputes (Commissioner) It is a given that there will be disputed calls, arguments, maybe even fights. The great thing about a sandlot game is they matter. Winning is extremely important, so a call for or against you can make all the difference.

Boy batting

We normally didn’t have referees, so it usually came down to a consensus in the event of a close call. If all else failed, I usually volunteered my team to give in to the other team. Being diplomatic was the easiest way to get the game going again, and I saw it as a challenge to overcome.

These disagreements were settled in the heat of the battle, in person, and lasted seconds at the most. Today’s twelve year old barely speaks to his peers unless it’s done through a headset or a text message.

Step 7. Keeping Score (Statistician) We always kept score. Always. But sometimes that wasn’t enough for us. On numerous occasions we started our own “leagues”, which required us to keep our own stats, naturally. Suddenly bragging rights didn’t solely rest on winning and losing. If your team won, but you hit half as many home runs as someone else, they’d make sure you knew. When you’re playing with your friends, the numbers are all that matter. Of course, looking back years later, they don’t matter at all.

What matters is that you learn how to interact with others, that you stay physically active, and enjoy the outdoors. It’s important that you pick up a skill and decide whether it’s something you want to develop even further. It matters that you come to understand how to compromise, how to disagree constructively, and how to resolve conflict efficiently and with each side having felt they won.

It’s important that you form friendships and create memories that will last you the rest of your life. It’s important that you do this, so that one day you can show your children how to enjoy their own sandlot games. And I can get off my soapbox.

Photographs from the movie, The Sandlot; and Peter Pan Fan

Reviving the Sandlot Baseball Game

Lack of sandlot ball has hurt the development of young players

By Don Weiskopf, Publisher, Baseball Play America

Many of us who grew up during the 1940s and '50s remember our summer days when we played baseball all day long. We didn't have Little League but we were among a group of neighborhood kids who showed up at a ball field, picked sides and began playing a ball game. Today, ball fields sit empty during the summer because young children have to have everything organized for them. The lack of pick-up and sandlot games has hurt the development of young players in America.
Old Sandlot

Summer days were once filled with kids playing baseball at a local field, as pictured here on the site of what is now Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York. Sandlots are now mostly empty around the country, and summer baseball opportunities have declined. For most young children, the baseball season is over in June, and the great majority are not playing during the summer and not improving their skills. A major challenge of those in youth baseball and everyone else in the game is to get kids to play more on their own. Children today are not playing enough on their own to develop a high level of skills.

In his recent and much needed article, "Sandlots Stand Idle Across U.S.", Eric Olson of The Associated Press wrote, "Sandlot baseball, a slice of American life enjoyed for decades by boys from coast to coast, appears on the verge of extinction. The reasons for the sandlot's demise, baseball coaches and sociologists say, go back to the changing family structure, video games, parents' fear of crime, and the proliferation of organized and so-called 'select' teams for more talented kids."

I have always believed that youngsters learn the game best in an unstructured setting. The fundamentals must be practiced continually, even at the big league level. Many kids have missed out on the simple pleasure of playing catch with a parent or sibling. Since they are not playing enough catch, the throwing skills of young children have diminished. They need to make playing catch fun and challenging. Young players need more skill-based, fun-resulting experiences, as opposed to high-pressurized organized league play.
Gormley Park

Several groups in the United States are trying to get kids outside to play, reported Olson in his AP story. In contrast to Major League Baseball's RBI program - Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities - which features structured league play, Batter's Up USA is taking a more informal approach to rekindling interest in the game. "The goal is to introduce youngsters to baseball," said Olson, "and have them play in a safe and stress-free environment with limited adult involvement."

The Batter's Up might be as close as anyone gets to reviving the old-fashioned sandlot game, said Olson. One of the largest Batter's Up programs started this past summer in Dallas, where more than 2,000 kids at Boys and Girls Club participated. Started three years ago, the initiative provides baseball equipment to city recreation departments, Boys and Girls Clubs, and after-school programs. Executive director Jess Heald of Taos, N.M., said 35 organizations in 18 states are participating. The 74-year-old Heald, a retired bat designer for Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., said manufacturers donate much of the equipment, and contributions from benefactors help purchase additional gear.

Most kids today do not play baseball unless registered by a parent for an organized team. Many youngsters show up at their first practice having never had contact with the game, as opposed to the kids of yesteryear who learned from siblings and older friends. They are not playing and practicing the game enough today. Young children do not play catch enough. They are not getting in enough reps, throwing and catching the ball, batting, etc.

Young children in America must not say goodbye to sandlot baseball. There is still hope that the sandlot and playground baseball play concept will not die. Judging from the many letters I have received following Eric Olson's Associated Press article, young children in many small towns of the United States are still playing sandlot baseball.

Contributing to this article is Eric Olson, The Associated Press. Photos by Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, and Squibbage blogspot. com

Getting Kids Back to Sandlot Baseball

By Don Weiskopf, Publisher, Baseball Play America

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, neighborhood kids across the nation could be seen gathering every morning at local playgrounds for pick-up baseball. Every park had a leader or supervisor. In 1939 when I was growing up in Libertyville, Illinois, Arthur Kruckman, a neighbor, used a county highway department tractor to grade the vacant lot across the street from our family home. Jim Dowden, a longtime buddy of mine, and I then built a ballfield. Our team was the Libertyville Mudhens, and we even had road games, bicycling to nearby towns like Grayslake and Half Day.

We were both the coaches and umpires. The players picked the captains who then picked the teams, assigned positions and determined the batting order. We even resolved our own disputes, modified the rules to suit the number of players. We learned how to cooperate, how to be good winners and good losers. Essentially, we ran our own game. No one was excluded. Nobody said, "You can't play." Later, with the growth of parks and recreation facilities, neighborhood children met at the local playground. When enough players arrived, they would have a good ball game, even rotating and playing different positions.

What can be done to get kids back to playground baseball?
Two boys with bat

The key to the return of sandlot baseball is the thousands of public recreation and park agencies across the country. Children today do not play enough playground baseball, and we need to revive the concept and promote a movement. More opportunities to play baseball in parks and playgrounds need to be provided by local park and recreation departments and school districts. City playgrounds should be open longer and the necessary equipment provided.

A major effort should be made to have local recreation and park agencies nationwide spearhead a multiple-sponsorship of Playground Baseball of America, a non-profit organization coordinated by the National Recreation and Park Association and state affiliates. Such a national movement would require the joint cooperation of local and regional recreation agencies and ably supported by a national service organization, school districts, major and minor leagues, law enforcement agencies, the news media and funded by corporate sponsors.

Will city recreation agencies be willing to provide facilities and administrative support for Playground Baseball to become a reality? They will if the number of participants, program funding and volunteer leadership justifies their involvement and sponsorship. If successful, Playground Baseball will force Little League and other youth leagues to make changes. Youth baseball will also benefit by giving kids an alternative to Little League. Even more importantly, the program will contribute immeasurably to the revival of sandlot ball and the pick-up games concept, as it will to baseball itself, helping return the national pastime to America's parks and playgrounds.

Photo by Don Weiskopf

Revival of Baseball Pick-up Games

By Don Weiskopf, Publisher of Baseball Play America

The best way to get children to play more baseball on their own is to promote a return of pick-up games. The youth of America need to be taught how to organize pick-up games on their own, like these school kids pictured below. "We don't see kids playing strikeout against a wall, nor do they play scrub," said Jim Panther, longtime head baseball coach at Libertyville High School in northern Illinois.
Kids playing ball in the backyard

Many years ago, during the summer, in the afternoons following school and on weekends, youngsters made the neighborhoods reverberate with the sounds of playing games in parks, vacant lots and in the streets. Among the many games were stickball, scrub, over-the-line, wall ball, strikeout, and later on, wiffleball. There were always 3 or 4 of us to play some version of a game. If we couldn't hit to right, we would stack the fielders, so there was enough to go around. If kids didn't have enough players for stickball, they would play Army Ball, "Catch-a-fly and you're up".

Favorite Pick-up Games Ever mindful that the large majority of young kids today do not play pick-up games, nor do they and their parents know how, the following low organized games are a few of those that young children used to play. Quite often, they were played from morning hours to the evening.

Work Up Equipment: Baseball and bat. Directions: Work-up is where one player gets to bat until he or she makes an out. When the hitter makes an out, he moves into the field and the fielders move up one position until each has a turn at bat. “Working up” starts from right field position and continues from right to center field; then to second base, first base, pitcher, catcher, and finally the batter. The batter tries to stay at bat for three successive runs while those in the field try to put the runners out. If there is only one batter, he runs between home and first base and continues as batter until he is put out, or successfully completes three successive runs. If there are two batters, they run from home to first, to third and home again. If there are three or more batters, all the bases are used.

Wall Ball Equipment: A wall with a drawn strike zone, rubber or tennis ball, and home plate. Directions: One or more players stand about 20 to 40 feet from the wall, preferably concrete. The game begins by having each player throw a ball against the wall. As a drill, throws can be fielded by the player who made the throw. As a competitive game, a player other than the thrower has to field the ball and the “pitcher” can vary the type, speed and difficulty of throws. Rules can be established as to catching the ball on a fly or a bounce. The players can keep score and the one who has the most points will win. Another game involves a pitcher pitching an imaginary game against the wall. He keeps the count, outs, innings and score. To make this an even more competitive experience, two pitchers can oppose each other, alternating innings and keeping score.

Army Ball Equipment: Hard rubber ball and bat. Directions: This popular West Coast “stick” and ball game often involves three players, a pitcher, batter and fielder. Of course, more players can play. As to how the game got its name, the field was spread from any makeshift backstop to any tall building, barracks, whatever. This was strictly a pull-hitting game. Batters cannot hit the opposite way. If the batter hit the building above one level, it is a double, another level a triple, and the roof and over, home run. There are no walks in Army Ball. The batter stays at bat until he hits or strikes out. This serves to make hitters wait for desired pitches.

Over the Line Equipment: Ball and bat. Directions: Referred to also as Line Ball, this is a favorite playground, school and yard game. With two teams 30 feet apart and perhaps 6 players on a team, the object is for the batter to drive a ground ball through the other team. Each team has a bat. The first player tosses the ball up and tries to bat it across the other team’s goal line. The ball must hit the ground between the two lines. The other team tries to field the ball and then attempts to bat it back across the opponent’s goal line. Each member of each team gets a chance to bat. One point is scored for each ball that crosses the other team’s goal line. Another variation is for the players to throw rather than bat the ball.

Scrub Equipment: Baseball and bat. Directions: One player is at bat, with a catcher, pitcher, first base and other fielders. All players are numbered: the batter is scrub; catcher, one; pitcher, two; first base, three; fielders, four and up. The batter hits a ball pitched to him, and runs to first base and back. If he is put out by being tagged at first base or home, striking three times, hitting three fouls or having a fly ball caught, he goes to the field and takes the number of the last fielder. Each player moves over one position and number, first base to pitcher, pitcher to catcher, and catcher to batter (scrub). If the batter gets home safely, he will bat again. Each batter is allowed to make three runs before taking to the field, provided he is not put out.

Catch-A-Fly and You're Up Equipment: bat. Directions: One player is at bat and the rest of the players are in the field or down the street. When a fielder catches a fly ball, he gets to hit. Most kids will come up to the plate swinging, trying to hit a home run or a hard line drive. Some will hit a few on the ground so they will stay up longer. So a pitcher may want to throw high pitches to make the batter hit flies. Rather than be close behind the plate, the catcher will position himself safely farther back. If he catches a pop fly, he may be allowed to hit.

Pepper The batter stands about 15-20 feet away from a fairly straight line of fielders. Batter hits grounders to the fielders, fielders field the ball and pitch it back to the hitter and on and on. Many rule options. Hitter can lose turn if he lines out or fouls off more than a couple balls. Fielder can become the hitter by catching a pop out. Fielder can be eliminated by making an error. You might include a game of “flip” into pepper by making a rule that the fielder must field the grounder cleanly then flip it to another fielder and down the line. This is a great game for bat control, fielding, throwing strikes, etc.

Three flies up This is a simple game where either someone pitches to a hitter or the hitter just tosses the ball to himself and hits until someone in the field catches 3 pop flies. That fielder then becomes the hitter. A variation might be to award certain point totals for fielding different balls. For example, 10 points for a fly ball, 5 points for a ball on one hop, 2 points for a grounder. First fielder to a certain number wins or gets to hit. This can also get as rough as you want, often turning into a hybrid of rugby and baseball depending on how much contact the fielders allow.

Over the line - variation A field is set up with an area for the hitter. Then, a straight line is established about where second base would be, then another where shallow right field would be. The width of the field is determined by how many people are in the field. The hitter either tosses the ball to himself or hits a pitched ball into the confines of the field. If it lands to the left or right of the boundaries he’s out. A ball that makes it past the first line on the ground is a single. If it lands in between the first and second line in the air it’s a double. If it goes over the deepest fielders head, homer. Outs are made by fielding any grounder in front of the first line or catching a ball in the air. Three outs switch.

First to ten Brent Mayne and his son play this game all the time. It’s fun and excellent for concentration and control. It’s a simple game of catch. Get a decent distance away from each other. The receiver stands perfectly still and holds the throw from the thrower exactly where he catches it. A ball that would have hit him in the head is worth two points, a throw that would have hit him in the body area (above the knees though) is worth one. First man to ten wins.

Play Catch Equipment: Ball and gloves. Directions: Ever since baseball was invented, Play Catch has been regarded as the game's most valuable drill. Although better known as a warm-up drill, playing catch with another player can also be made a game, one that can be fun and challenging. A player, for example, can see how many times out of 10 throws he can hit a designated target, such as a glove, chest area, or around the knees.

Photograph by Anne Ryan, USA TODAY; Game Contributions from Brent Mayne.

About us
Major League Minor League Skills/Strategies HS/College/Seniors
Feature Stories World Baseball News Release Performance Enhancers
Newsletter Photo Gallery Coaching Clinic


Copyright© Weiskopf