Eagle Field Memories of Sandlot Baseball Games

By Bill McCurdy, Word Press.com

Soil collected from the old home plate area of yesterday's Eagle Field in Pecan Park. It still glitters with magic promise of great games and good times to come. Even the ghosts of croakers in nearby Frogtown still stop by to pay their respect to the joy that once covered all the free-standing earth of American cities and towns in the form of sandlot baseball.

Eagle Field, Houston

I never "Outgrew" my emotional attachment to the old dedicated city vacant lot in the east end of Houston that once so faithfully served as home to our sandlot baseball games - and to the dedicated club we Japonica-Myrtle-Kernel street kids called the Pecan Park Eagles.

The critical time for me was 1947 to 1953. Before that time, I had to awaken to baseball. After that period, work took over much of my summer month and after school time. I had to help pay for my upkeep and I was also playing a little organized baseball away from Pecan Park by that time.

From 1954 forward, "the song had ended, but the melody lingered on." I didn't realize it at the time, but none of us really did. As some of you have heard me say, those sandlot baseball days were far and away the greatest era of joy in life that most, if not all of us, would ever again know.

Eagle Field, at Japonica at Myrtle in Houston, shown here, lives on forever in my heart.

None of our dreams and plans for tomorrow would ever be so fulfilling, everyday fresh, and so free of stress and disappointment as any day on the sandlot. We can't live in the past, but I do wish we could revive the sandlot.

Even losing didn't hurt for long because there was always tomorrow. And Tomorrow's game could start at sunrise, if we wanted it to begin with the dawn. And tomorrow was nothing more than an extension of today. It was all wrapped up in our non-stop time, adult expectation-free time zone of our united summer love for baseball. From the end of school at Memorial Day to the return of school on the first Tuesday after Labor Day, all of the boys and a couple of the girls in our east end Houston neighborhood, like kids all over town, were playing sandlot baseball.

The two girls that played sandlot baseball with us back then were distinguishable for different reasons. Eileen was a cute little blonde, but she didn't get there on her looks. Eileen could hit as well and just about out-pitch any guy on the field. Eileen got to be one of us on merit along.

Sissy, on the other hand, had very little ability, but she was overrun with a battling heart. Her two older brothers played with us, but that only got her on the field. She stayed there by trying her damndest to overcome the crippling effects of some childhood illness we never did discuss. It was probably polio that gave her the limp, but we simply didn't talk about things like that back in the day. Whatever it was, it didn't stop her heart. When Sissy played, she gave it her all.

Last spring, when good friend and fellow SABR member Bob Dorrill and I toured a few old ball field sites in Houston's past, I couldn't resist adding Eagle Field to the tour agenda. I also came prepared that day to dig up a little dirt from the old home plate area so that I could take it home with me as a physical souvenir of that magical time and space. That's a small sparkling sample of the hallowed ground you see in the first photo up top.
Tattered ol' ball

I found the little frog emblem nearby, the product of a more recent Pecan Park childhood era, but a gentle reminder to me of the once enormous "Houston Toad" population that thrived in Pecan Park back in the day prior to their loss of insect foot supplies to Houston's exterminators. So many toads abounded. We may have been scientifically inaccurate, but we even named one section of the Japonica-Kernel alley "Frogtown" because of all the toads we found there.

I'll try to not repeat myself too often on this subject, but it was just that special to so many of us. The loss of the sandlot experience is one of the great losses to our American childhood in today's generations.

For one thing, and from what I both see and sense, the loss of the sandlot stood hard as the demise of the greatest "kids court" that ever existed. It was where we kids of the old days learned to both compete and cooperate with others our age without the perpetual direction, control, and rescue of parents and other authority figures. My dad had to get involved once when we started mixing baseball with a pipe gun war, but, for the most part, we kids of that era worked things out without killing each other.

Those were the days, my friends. We can't live in the past, but I do wish we could revive the sandlot.

If only we could build enough safeguards far enough back for kids today to work and play together again, away from the threat of pedophiles and free from the obvious presence of parents or purchased adult supervision.

Under today's conditions, kids don't have much chance to find and name their own "Frogtowns" - and that loss of free play and safe exploring opportunity in childhood should sadden us all.

Photograph by Bill McCurdy and Word Press.com

Playing Around

By Lowell E. Sunderland

Remember when you and some friends couldn't get enough baseball? Maybe after dinner, when it was cooler, you dashed off to a vacant lot, playground or even the street to play.

Baseball, Gove, Bat

Remember choking a bat to decide which "captain" would pick the first player? Or left-handers catching or playing shortstop? Or, because you didn't have enough players, agreeing that right field was foul territory? Or, even, a parent filling in as all-time outfielder or hitting wrong-handed so no one would get hurt?

A few Howard County Youth Program dads remember. And, thus, HCYP's second swing at pickup baseball is about to start.

Here's the deal: Show up at 5:45 p.m. every Wednesday, starting July 11, at Field No. 3 of Kiwanis-Wallas Park, U.S. 40 and Route 144.

There, players - not grown-ups - will pick sides and play till 8:15 p.m. No umpires, leagues, standings or stats. Games will be set up for players 8 through 14, with squads chosen so big guys don't "whomp" up on little guys.

Oh, one stop to the realities of 2001 sandlots: It'll cost $1 to play each evening. But just bring a glove, a favorite bat, and maybe a friend. You don't need a uniform. Skipping a Wednesday or two for vacation or camp is OK. HCYP provides the equipment, diamonds, and just enough supervision to keep things safe.

"We're just trying to stir up some interest in going back to when you'd play until it got dark just because it was fun," said Rob Schutzman, a coach and HCYP's Pony League commissioner.

As he pointed out, credit should go where credit's due. Columbian Duane "Skip" Baylor put pickup games back into vogue for HCYP last summer with 10-and-under players he coached last spring.

"Baseball's my passion," said Baylor, who grew up in Baltimore. He vividly remembers Pony League in Pimlico and playing in Carroll and Patterson Parks. Now, he supervises the Montgomery County Police Department's crime-analysis unit.

"The kids play in the spring, and then, except for travel teams, there's this void," said Baylor. "That's not natural, so I thought we have this wonderful facility, why not use the time just to have fun, to play just like we did when I was a kid?

"Baseball's one of those good and right things about life," Baylor said. "And you can enjoy it at so many different levels."

A few circulars spread the word, and Baylor soon found himself with enough players for one game and often two."

"The kids run it. ''' But you know what I began to notice, too?" Baylor said. "Instead of just dropping their kid off and heading to the mall, a lot of parents hang around and watch, which is nice, too."

Photograph by USA TODAY

Bringing Back Pick-up Baseball Games

By Dave "Skip" Holt, Coach and Play Baseball.com

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 keeps 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 www.coachandplaybaseball.com/sandlot-baseball.html; Photographs by Coach and Play Baseball.com; and Sportside.com

Sandlot Baseball Joy is Still Forever

By Bill McCurdy, WordPress.com 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 Colby.com, The Art of Colby Jones; and Word Press.com

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 Club.com

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 Club.com

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 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.

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