Spring time is baseball time. That’s the way it is now, and that’s the way it was when I was a little girl. As soon as the ground was dry enough, sometimes before, we were all out tossing the ball around, choosing teams, and swinging the bat. The only organization we had was our own. Parents only got involved if we played at a picnic or a re-union.
My friend Mike and his big brother Bobby and his big sister Dianna from down the road, and my sisters Deanna and Bonita and Vickie, and Tom and Cathy from next door and Nancy and Doug from across the road all got together and tramped down a ball diamond in the pasture, using sticks and scraps of cardboard for bases. Sometimes we used ant hills for bases; after a lot of frantic scurrying at the beginning of the game the ants went underground until the game was over. The Queen Anne’s lace looked like sad skeletons sticking every which way, so we stamped it down, otherwise we got poked when we fell down. Falling down and grass stains were part of baseball. Bobby was way better at baseball than anyone else, so he batted left-handed and only got one strike; Vickie was almost a Little Kid, so she had unlimited strikes until she finally hit something. That way everything fair.
We played baseball at school, too. The girls had to wear dresses to school; I always wore shorts or slacks under my dress, so I could play ball or red-rover, or hang on the monkey bars without anyone seeing my underpants and singing, “I see London, I see France, I see somebody’s underpants.” I didn’t have a baseball glove, but that was okay, nobody had one, we just caught the baseball bare-handed. Sometimes it stung like the dickens especially if Jeannie was batting. Jeannie was super tough ’cause she had four brothers and no sisters, but she was nice too, she never hurt anybody on purpose; sometimes by accident she did, because she was super-duper strong and her brothers teased a lot, so that was what she learned. Jeannie’s mom was kinda tough too; I figured you had to be tough with boys around, punching and giving Indian burns and Chinese rings, and crazy stuff like that. Helen was tough too, but she had a mean streak. Once she told me to rub angel hair on my arm because it felt so soft. All the while she knew my arm would itch like crazy, and the more I tried to rub it off, the more it itched, ’cause angel hair was really tiny strands of glass that just looked pretty and soft as a cloud, and Helen knew I never saw angel hair before. She laughed so hard, when my arm started itching, then my feelings were hurt, too. I never trusted Helen much after that.
At school, Jeannie and Daylene got to be captains a lot ’cause they were the best players: They could both slug the ball way out past everyone. Lots of times, somebody else got to be captain and plenty of times that somebody else was me. The side-choosers could both play ball about the same; sometimes it was the best players, sometimes it was the worst players, sometimes it was somebody in the middle. Lots of times I saw the worst players looking hopeful, and I would just pick one of them first; then the other captain would do the same thing. Nobody ever said that was a rule, still, that’s what we always did.
I liked to pitch, until Jeannie slugged a ball, hard as she could, going for the home run, right toward the pitcher and Daylene stopped it by doubling over and hitting the ground face first. That was an Out, and Daylene look super proud down there under all her tear; she was gasping for breath for more than a minute, so of course she cried. Jeannie just stood there looking stunned, ’cause she didn’t mean to hurt anybody, she was just doing what she knew how to do best. I never asked to pitch after that, instead I ran for short-stop.
Once Deanna’s friend Nancy from across the road decided she would show me how to really slug it way out there. I could hit enough to get me to first base, once in a while to second, but I never hit a home run. Nancy told me to watch her really close, and keep an eye on the bat. I did, maybe I watched too close: Nancy hit me full-on, right in the eye. Next thing I knew I was laying on the ground with kids standing all around, including Nancy who looked all blue around the lips and like she wanted to puke. She helped me get up and get to the house.
Mom looked like she was about to puke, too, and she had hardly anything to say except “Oh my gosh!” over and over, like I couldn’t hear, so I must have looked pretty awful. She told Dad later that my eye was as big as her fist, and she held her fist up for him to see. She could have exaggerated, I couldn’t tell on account of I couldn’t see my own eye, but Mom never lied, so I believed her. She said, “Too bad Nancy wasn’t teaching you how to bunt,” and Mom’s face was all relaxed and almost smiling again.
I had a big shiner all summer long, which ended up being a lot of fun, ’cause everywhere I went, even strangers asked me “what happened to you?” and looked all concerned and interested in me.
Sometimes, I said, just to kid around, “Oh, my Dad slugged me.” That got a fun reaction out of people, I pulled it off pretty well but I could feel the giggles bubbling right out behind that little hanging down thing in the back of my mouth until I just burst out laughing, which made the other person laugh loud. Except Uncle Gene, he said, “It was about time. You’ve been asking for it all your life.” so I cut that out. Dad sometimes said things like that, but I knew he was kidding, ’cause his eyes twinked like the stars did at night; Uncle Gene’s looked like dead fish eyes all the time. He had a mean streak, like Helen, but Mom said he only got like that after the War, she remembered him from when he was a little boy always laughing and having a gay old time, so I got to thinking it was more like Jeannie, he just learned to be that way ’cause of the way he way he was treated. Then that got me thinking that maybe Helen was mean because she learned to be that way, too.
Whether I played baseball at home or at school, we had a score in there somewhere, but I lost track, ’cause it never mattered. We just kept playing until it was time to go inside. Sometimes if the score got way out of whack, the losing team got some extra at-bats. The strikes and outs were on your honor; most the time it was pretty clear, sometimes we argued, and sometimes the problem got solved with a do-over. That was just fair, and fair was way more fun than people getting sore and going home mad.
I suppose there’s something to be said for a good competitive game, whether it’s sports, cards, a board game, or maybe even in the board room. It’s important to be nice and play fair and once in a while call a do-over, and respect people for doing what they do best. Once in a while, it’s just better to be flexible, so everyone can go home feeling like a winner or at least go home losing track of the score.