My First SANDLOT Baseball Game, Life in the Fifties.

I remember my first Baseball game.

It was finally Summer, and school had only been out for a week or so.

At that time my Mom had gotten a  Summer job at the Craddock & Terry Shoe Company to help “make ends meet”, and she worked weekdays from 7:30 to 4:00. If you add the bus trip back and forth, she was gone from 7:00 to 4:30 each day.

My Dad worked for the C&O Railroad as a Conductor, and because the C&O was unionized, he was on the “Extra List”.

What that meant was that he didn’t have enough seniority to work a regular shift, so he put himself on the extra list as being available to work ,in case someone else laid out, or if the company just needed someone extra to work a shift.

And there were very strict and specific rules for selecting who got called up to work. It was all about seniority, and the more seniority you had with the company, the more often you got called up to work. Dad worked from 7:00 to 3:00 when he was on a day shift, and he drove to work which meant that he was usually gone from 6:30 to 4:00 each day he got work.

I remember that Dad went through about six years of this type of erratic part time shift work before he got to work a regular full shift.

Everyone down at the Yard Office knew that Dad was married with several kids, and that he was a hard working family man who was willing to work on any day, on any shift.

That’s probably why they were usually happy when they could work down to his name on the extra list because they knew he would show up, do his job, and never complain.

Finally, after almost six years of slowly climbing up the seniority ladder, Dad got an offer for a permanent job on third shift, and he jumped on it.

Up until then, Dad had to work odd jobs. He drove a Taxi, he did a lot of Handyman work for other people, and he did some cabinet making for those who could afford his work.

Regardless of his hours at the Railroad, Dad always managed to make enough to feed us kids, and keep us in decent cloths.

Of course this meant that with this extra work Dad’s workday was 14 to 16 hours, seven days a week. He did this for years.

Mom would work her eight hour shift at the Shoe Company, and would then have to come home and take care of us kids, do the laundry, feed us, and clean house.

I mention all of this so you will understand why I had the time to slip away and do pretty much anything I wanted during most Summer days.

Mom was usually working and Dad was usually sleeping, if he was home at all. Dad had saved enough before this to eventually buy one of those four-room Bungalow type houses in a working class neighborhood called Fairview Heights.

Living in Fairview Heights

Fairview Heights, at the time, was a neighborhood outside the actual City limits of Lynchburg, and was not considered a preferred place to live by anyone with money, or good sense, I guess.

It was a good solid working-class area, and although the homes were small, everyone took care of their homes, and yards. So, to me, it was a nice neighborhood. Hell, I didn’t know until years later that we were considered Poor!

I can remember at first, I would tell other kids in school that I lived in Fairview Heights, and when I did, I either got a turned up nose, or a snicker. I eventually learned to avoid the subject of where I lived.

Learning to be Tough

I also learned that when you got a smart comment from other kids about where you lived, if you frowned at them and looked mean, they would back off and change the subject. You see Fairview Heights also had a reputation of being tough.

If you lived in Fairview Heights, as a kid in the Fifties, you learned to fist-fight. Looking back, it seemed that every where I went during that period of my life, someone would call me out to fight. Even if I was just walking down the street, I would get called out.

If the guy was bigger or meaner than you, you had the options to either run or you stood up and took your whipping. Like a Man, as they would say.

It was usually better not to run because you could quickly get a reputation as a “Chicken”, and just like in the old Western movies, then every guy that wanted to be considered tough, would start calling you out.

I would often come home with some new bruises and cuts Mom would immediately start asking me: How did you get that Bruise? or What are those cuts on your knuckles? or the worst of all: How did your shirt get torn?

In response I would usually mumble something about tripping while running down the street, or I caught the shirt on a fence I was climbing, or some other fabrication of the moment.

She must have thought I was the clumsiest kid in the world!

I could get away with cuts and bruises, but if I tore a shirt or pair of jeans, I knew before I got home that there would be Hell to pay. One of my first”Life Lessons” I learned while being a Kid during those years was that my body would heal, but torn cloths had to be replaced and that was not an option with Mom!

Anyway, as I mentioned before, money was scarce back then.

So, for protection, if nothing else, when you lived in this kind of environment, you would tend to form alliances with other kids in the neighborhood.

We didn’t have gangs, as such, especially at our ages, but we had Buddies that we hung around with. We would hang around together, walk around the neighborhood together and do just about everything else together.

Two of my best buddies back then were the Goodman brothers; Chuck and Ray. They lived across the street from me and it was natural for us to be doing things together. You see, both of their parents worked too and I would usually migrate over to their house nearly every day, and we would hang out in their back yard.

Ray was an easy going kind of guy, and Chuck was the tough one. He was skinny, and he smoked cigarettes all the time, but when a fight started, he could whip a guy twenty pounds heavier than he was.He was really fast. And, he knew how to fight dirty which was a respected skill in our neighborhood.

We were always looking for something to do or some kind of trouble to get into, and sometimes what we came up with was just a little dangerous. But the best thing we ever did was make our own Baseball field and play Baseball that year when I was 8 years old.

A Summer Baseball Game

There is no experience like playing a game of Baseball, in the Summer on an old abandoned lot.

I’m not talking about what we did when my kids were growing up, with youth Associations, paid referees, and professionally groomed fields, with kids in uniforms and all of the structure that goes with the game today.

What I’m talking about is an old-fashioned, pickup game between a bunch of kids, on a hot Summer day, in a vacant lot. God that was always fun!

Some things stick out in your mind, even years later. I remember the Summer days of my youth as little nuggets of Joy and Happiness. They flash through my head when I see or hear certain things. One of those cherished memories is the Summer we first played Baseball..

There was an empty lot across the street, that weeds had almost taken over. My Buddies and I decided one day that it would make a good Baseball field, so we proceeded to clean it up.

Chuck’s Dad had one of those old push reel-type mowers, so he snuck it out of the shed and drug it over to the lot.

While he tried to mow some of shorter weeds, the rest of us started picking up the junk that was all over the lot. You know, cans, bottles, half-rotten planks with nails sticking out of them, old papers, pretty much anything you can think of.

Once we had cleaned the lot up, and Chuck had used the Mower to make us a path for the bases, we were ready for the next step. We needed equipment to play.

We rounded up some old Flour sacks, and filled them with rags for bases.

I “borrowed” my aunt Dot’s softball glove and the guys came up with a Catcher’s Mitt and one other real glove.

One guy showed up with one of those small plastic kid’s gloves that he could barely get his fingers into.You know the ones that parents buy for their kid when he is two years old?

The real hero though, was Bill from up at the end of the street. He showed up with areal baseball bat and a baseball.

Man, we were going to play some serious Baseball!

That First  Ball Game

What a day! I looked around and what had just been an old vacant lot was now a sight to behold.

Where there had once been tangles of trash and weeds, we had real ball diamond. It might be grown up with weeds, and not very smooth, but it did resemble a baseball field.

The sun was shining, there was a light breeze blowing, and the outfield, still untamed by us, had foot-high golden grass stalks waving to us, it seemed, to get the game started. We had even scratched the base lines with some sticks until some good old Virginia Red Dirt showed.

To us It was as good a field as any we had ever seen, and we were all beside ourselves to get out there and show each other how great we were.

After several minutes of arguing it was decided that Chuck and Johnny (another neighbor) would be the team Captains. They were a year older than the rest of us, and meaner.

Once the Captains were picked, they then took turns selecting the rest of us for their teams. We only had seven kids at first, but as the day wore on, several of the other neighborhood kids showed up and were swiftly drafted onto the teams.

The next step was to come up with team names and everyone had an opinion. Finally, after a lot of heated argument, and one almost-fight, team names were picked and only one decision was left. Who Batted first?

This was to be decided with a “Bat Toss“.

Now, in case you didn’t know the Bat-Toss is a process where one Captain tosses the bat to the other Captain. The other Captain holds the bat wherever he catches it, and then they alternate gripping the bat, one hand above the others hand until the winner has a grip on the top of the bat, and can hold onto it.

On the first try, Johnny cheated and “hunched up” on the bat when he got close to the top, so the Bat Toss process had to be repeated.

The second time, of course, Chuck had to “Hunch Up” on the bat, rather than lose and, of course, he was immediately declared a cheater also.

Finally, after a lot of argument and name calling by evryone, an honest Bat Toss was declared by all and Johnny’s team got “First Bat

Because I had a real glove, and due to the fact that I was considered too small, too young, and too inexperienced at Baseball, I was put in Left Field and told to catch anything that came my way.

I didn’t care ….. I was playing Baseball!

The Best Baseball Game Ever!

It was a glorious day! I thought my chest would explode just from the sheer Joy of being on that Baseball field that we had built.

The pitchers had no clue how to pitch, and not one of us could get a decent hit on the ball even if it was pitched properly. We had picked one kid, Darren, to be the Catcher for both teams as well as the Referee. The logic was he was a Preacher’s son and wouldn’t lie to us about what he saw.

It turned out that not only was he scared of a thrown baseball, but he also had no clue what a strike zone was. We ended up spending a lot of the time waiting for him to chase most of the pitches down the street and bringing them back to the field and the Pitcher.

When the ball did get hit, it was as likely to fly down the street, or into one of the neighbor’s yards, as it was to actually be in play.

But, what a scramble when a hit was in play.

Wherever the ball was hit, everyone ran to get it, regardless of the position they were supposed to play. Of course that meant there was no one to throw the ball to, so getting a player out was very hard to do the first hour or so.

The way I remember it, we had played for several hours, and had only completed two innings. The score on the other had was something like 23 to 17.

Like I said, Outs were hard to get. Errors though …… well, they were numerous.

By this time, the heat had taken it’s toll, and we were all exhausted and thirsty, but no one wanted to be the one to end the game.

After another half-hour or so, though Mother Nature showed up and ended the game for us with a raging Summer Rainstorm.

I remember that we all ran through the pouring rain and over to Chuck’s house and we gathered on the front porch, wet, dirty, and breathing hard,.

The rest of that afternoon, or rather until Chuck’s parents showed up, was spent with everyone mis-remembering the details of the game and beginning the process of exaggerating our personal accomplishments on the field, and behind the plate.

I walked across the street to my house, just as my Mom got home from work, looking like a vagabond, but smiling from ear to ear.

Of course, my Mom chewed me out for being so dirty, and when she asked me what I had been doing to get myself into such a state, I just smile again and said; Nothing Mom! We were just playing a little Baseball!

Other Games, Other days

Over the next several days I told everyone and anyone that would listen about my first real Baseball game and what a great player I was.

I don’t think I caught even one ball the whole day, but I did stop several with my body, and one with my face that had taken a “Bad Hop” while I had tried to catch it.

As to hitting the ball when I did get up to bat:

I had a marvelous swing, that was so hard that I would spin around like a top, followed by my falling on my Butt. I couldn’t stop myself …. If I hit the ball it was going to be a Home Run.

No Half-Ass Base Hit for me, I was going to be a SLUGGER!

I upset the pitcher so much with my spinning top swing that he actually walked me the second time I came up to bat.

Over that Summer, Baseball became a regular pastime for us Craig Street kids. We ran those bases so much that we ended up with a nicely defined red dirt baseline.

We beat the grass down in the outfield, and we even drove some stakes in the ground to better define the baselines and an invisible Home Run fence.

We all eventually learned how to actually play the game, and improved over the Summer to the point that we thought could play a Baseball game pretty good.

We played often after that, on our field, and we had a lot of fun learning how to play Baseball, over that Hot Summer.

But I remember that first game where all of us kids took on the task of building our own field and playing our first Baseball game as being such a special time for me.

The next year, those of us that really loved the game would walk up Campbell Avenue to the local Mountain View Elementary school where there was a real ball diamond, white lines and all.

There were a lot more kids up there, and most of them were older than us and were really good, so we didn’t get to play as much as we wanted.

We still stuck it out and did everything we could to get picked for a team, but most of us were not ready for the neighborhood ” Big Time” even when we were if picked to play as a fill-in,

I got picked sometimes if they needed a player to fill out their “lineup” but I don’t think it was ever as much fun as those first pickup games we played on that first field we built.

by Don Bobbitt, 2009

Copyright, Don Bobbitt, 2009, All Rights Reserved

You are free to read and enjoy this story, but if you want to use it commercially then you must have the author’s permission, in writing, beforehand.

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