Play Ball? An oxymoron?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 5, 2003

Move your feet. I'm about to step on some toes.

And, my own toes are scrunched up in my shoes as I write.

These thoughts come to me every summer about the time sad-faced kids go home from the ballpark with their gloves tucked under their arms to sit out the rest of the summer while a chosen few go off in pursuit of the baseball championship of the universe.

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Baseball's supposed to be fun. It's not supposed to be all about winning and losing. Grantland Rice told us that a long time ago: "It matters not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

I grew up playing ball. And, it was fun - flies hops and skinners. Those who played ball will understand that. Others won't have a clue.

When I was young, we lived in a house with a roof, like the red top on the Ace hardware on South Brundidge Street, except ours was green with shingles. I would spend hours throwing the rubber baseball that my mama bought me at the dime store up on the roof. When the ball rolled back down, I'd catch it. Sometimes I'd throw it too hard and it would go over the house and into to the cornfield. Then, I'd have to spend playing time looking in the corn rows for the ball and picking sandspurs out of my clothes.

Sometimes I'd throw the ball against the house between the kitchen windows and those in the living room. When the ball's bouncing against the house got louder than Eddie Arnold on the radio, my mama would holler, "Stop throwing that ball against the house!" I would stop and start throwing it high in the air and catch it before it hit the ground.

When three or more kids gathered we'd choose up sides and "Play ball!"

We played in someone's yard, the dirt road or a pasture - it didn't matter. We fashioned an odd-shaped diamond with bases from what Mother Nature supplied - a bush, a rock, a tree limb, a stump or a sun-dried cow patty.

No umpire was needed. The rules were simple - three strikes and you're out and a tie goes to the runner. Any dispute was quickly settled, "Tie goes to the runner!"

Score was kept by making marks in the sand or breaking off twigs and lining them up on the ground. We played until we got too hot and tired or our mamas called us to supper.

Nobody ever counted the marks or sticks.

Playing ball was fun.

I often wonder how much fun it would have been if my mama and daddy and all my grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins from Minnesota had been out there watching me. If they'd bemoaned each little faux pas I made and basked in every shining moment.

I wonder if I would have made all-star or cried crocodile tears if I didn't.

Maybe I would have been the best ballplayer in the world and would have played on the Dixie Pigtails World Cereal championship team. Mama could have put the trophy in the picture window for everyone to see.

Maybe not.

Maybe I would have always batted last and played right field.

I wonder if baseball would have been any fun at all if I'd had to perform for an audience instead of playing for fun and the love of the game.

I wonder if "Play Ball!" has become an oxymoron.

I wonder.