Playing Ball: Childhood Memories

We played baseball. No leagues, no parents, no play-dates, no umpires. We had no helmets, batting gloves, catcher's masks, or bases. We would walk to the school yard with our communal bat and ball. Most of us had our own glove, but sometimes we had to share. If there were younger kids playing on the diamond we would kick them off. If older kids showed up while we were playing they would push us aside. These were the rules of the school yard. We didn't know who set the rules but nobody questioned them. There were no arguments or fights over field ownership.

From Dawn 'til Dusk

We left the house in the morning and played until it was dark. I sometimes feel like we grew up in "The Peanuts" comic strip - I don't remember any adult supervision or interference while we played. In school, only the smartest and most athletic were rewarded with trophies and medals. If you didn't make the grade you didn't get a prize for trying. There was a pecking order that took its natural course. There were bullies and those who were bullied, but adults were never called in and no one ever brought a gun to school to get even.

In the Fall we would play football if someone in our group had a football. We would play basketball if someone had a basketball. But it was baseball that we played with reverence and passion.

Field of Dreams

In the Spring, all three "bases" and home plate were usually submerged in icy-cold water or deep, wet mud. The foul lines were sometimes mounds of snow remaining after the field had been plowed. In the Summer, the "field" was more like a diamond-shaped slice of Death Valley, completely devoid of vegetation and strewn with sharp rocks.

Wayne, Ron, Teddy, Gil, Gus, Brownstein, and Cherpak (for some reason we always called those two by their last names) and I were the regulars. There were others who came and went. Wayne's brother Dave would play when he couldn't find something dangerous or illegal to do. Teddy's older brother Ira would sometimes join us, as would Jeff Fox, who claimed his father designed the Smiley Face but got no credit for it.

We played every day during the Summer. We played for hours and hours, day after day, year after year yet I only have a few memories of specific events. We played in the school yard of Waltoffer Avenue Elementary School and called ourselves the Waltoffer Wack-Offs. We made our own uniforms by dying undershirts red. Unfortunately they came out hot pink. We wore them anyway. Each player had his nickname handwritten in marker on the back. Wayne was "Blitz", I was "Yo-Yo", and Jeff, who had a really bad speech impediment was "J-J-J-J-Jeff".

We had cheerleaders; Nancy and Cathy. They had names chosen from the list of ten or twelve acceptable girls names of that time . There were no Chloes, Zoeys or Destinys in those days. These two young ladies thought we were hot. Ron and I thought they were good sports. Very good sports.

An Unheralded End

One day we walked off the field for the very last time, though the finality went unnoticed. It was probably like any other day of playing ball. We would have been making jokes at Gil's expense or shoving someone to the ground. We would've been making plans for the evening. No one sensed that this would be a line of demarcation in our lives. That unknown day ended without fanfare. Some of us went away to college, Gus joined the Navy, Dave enlisted in the Air Force. Some went off to bad marriages, others just disappeared.

It was a special time in my life. The camaraderie, the competition, the freedom from responsibility, the feeling that time was endless, and the sense that the future would be whatever I wanted it to be. If I could go back for just a day I would savor every moment.

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Comments 4 comments

Wayne "Blitz" Grant 6 years ago

It was fun reading this well-written summary of a few years of my teenagehood. Apparently, the 60's hasn't destroyed all of the authors memory. As a bonus, it was told without being politically correct.


Ron Shapiro 6 years ago

I loved reading this as much as I loved playing ball. I still play (but right now I have a broken toe from a play at the plate (the throw was wide so I didn't even get him out.)). I was thinking about YoYo last nite while I was playing Let-It-Ride in AC.

Well done Bill.


Phil Hessemer 5 years ago

Hi Billy 'Yo-Yo' Yovino. I remember you, Cherpack, and those days at Waltoffer. Your story sure brought back a lot of similar memories I had from the 'other side of Crest Road'. We played baseball and football down at 'The Hill' near Southern State parkway. During the winter this is where we went sleigh riding. Then there was kickball or stickball in the street and basketball in someones driveway. When it got too hot we would jump in someone's back yard pool. I had a paper route around your block and houses mostly on Royden Drive. The movie 'Sandlot' was exactly like it was for us back in the mid 60's. Thanks for your story and hope all is well.


Bill Yovino profile image

Bill Yovino 5 years ago Author

Hi Phil,

I remember you as well. Thanks for the comments. Do you remember that Tether Ball was the high-profile sport for us? That was the true measure of neighborhood stature.

I recently posted a school photo from fourth grade on my Facebook page and you're in it, right in front of Kenny Cherpack.

It was very nice hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Bill

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