Take me out to the ballgame

Published 8:31 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

Whatever happened to flies, hops and skinners?

Well, unless you’re a card-carrying member of AARP or can order off the seniors’ menu at a restaurant, that thought has never crossed your mind.

For those who have never played hardball without a uniform and the aide of coaches and an umpire, flies, hops and skinners is a game of hitting and catching. It’s played with a ball and a bat and two or more people.

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Once upon a time before organized recreational sports, young’uns had to invent their own games. Flies, hops and skinners was one of those inventions. And, it was a simple game.

The batter would toss the ball in the air and hit it to the waiting fielders. The batter actually pitched his own balls.

The fielders had to earn the right to bat by catching either one fly ball, two hoppers – which were balls caught on one hop – or three skinners, which were ground balls.

The batter didn’t want to hit fly balls because that meant fewer at-bats, so we became pretty good at line drives and worm burners.

To decide who batted first, we would draw a line in the sand and the one who spit closest to the line was the batter.

I honed my skills as a fielder by throwing a rubber ball with all the markings of a real baseball. To catch flies, I would throw the ball on the roof of any side of our square house and catch it when it rolled back down. For hops, I’d bounce the ball off the side of the house until Mama hollered, “Quit doin’ that! You’re gonna knock the windows out.”

When we could gather up enough young’uns for two teams, we’d play a real baseball game – in the front yard, the back yard, in the road or in the pasture. It didn’t matter.

The distance between the bases was determined by what was available and where. We could set the bases between a bush, a fence post or a wimpy tree with a rock, a dried cow patty or a tin can.

We were our own umpires. We were smart little young’us. We knew when we “got out.” And, if it was close, the tie always went to the runner. We didn’t need a grown man out there signaling “safe” or “out.” We knew.

On our own, we learned a lot about sportsmanship and teamwork. We learned about getting along and compensating. If little young’uns wanted to play, the pitcher moved up closer and didn’t throw the ball quite so hard to them. We let them swing until they hit the ball and we always gave them a head start getting to base. We didn’t yell at them when they missed the ball in the field or threw it to who knows where.

Keeping score wasn’t a big thing. For a while, we’d mark the runs in the sand with a stick but we usually tired of that and just played ball.

The “big chew” of choice back then was billy goat grass, which was plentiful at this time of year. Plums from trees along the fence line, blackberries off the bushes or the sweet nectar from the honeysuckle were our “concessions.” When we got hot and thirsty, we’d go to the nearest water faucet and drink from it or from the creek that ran along the back of the pasture.

On some late summer afternoons, we’d walk up to the school where the big boys and men would be playing baseball. If I remember right, the wooden stands were covered and there was always a lot of clapping from there and a lot of happy yelling by the players on the field. Baseball was a lot of fun on both sides of the fence back then.

But, we didn’t stay there long. Young’uns didn’t do a lot of sitting around and watching. We wanted to play – from morning until dark and then sometimes after, if the grownups decided to sit around talking on the porch or out in the yard. Then, we’d play hide-and-go-seek, ain’t no boogers out tonight or freeze tag.

I’d be “motley” when it was finally time to go inside. Mama would run the tub water and I’d get in and come out shining. That was the best feeling in the world to be clean after a hard day’s play and lie there in the bed with the summer night sounds coming in through the open window –and thinking about flies, hops and skinners.

Today’s world is so vastly different from the one I grew up in. Young’uns are “wired” to cell phones, video games, iPods, Blackberries, the Internet and digital TV. They are the computer generation. And, they probably would have it no other way and secretly feel sorry for us ARRPers.

But what they don’t know and can’t understand, is that these gray, mushy computers in our old heads are filled with wonderful memories of growing up during the best time in the world.

And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor for The Messenger. She can be reached at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.