While I find some commercials annoying beyond description (think of a certain insurance company that refuses to bench Flo), there are others I find quite clever. I’ll admit that I eagerly await the next installment of DISH TV’s “The Settlers,” which has successfully walked the thin line of advertising by entertaining but not so well that the name of the product is forgotten.
There’s one commercial that has been running this spring as a means to get us all out of the house on our own little plots of greensward to exercise and also to gaze upon the beauty of what I do not have, as in a crabgrass-and-clover-free expanse of lushness that would be the envy of groundskeepers everywhere.
The commercial advertises Scotts, an official sponsor of Major League Baseball, and shows a group of older guys in a fenced-in yard playing a game that was the main staple of my summer youth, whiffle ball.
The first time I saw the commercial, memories flooded back to me despite the fact that it has been decades since I tried to take one of my whiffle opponents, Wayne Neu or Jim Fry, over the right-field fence and onto Mr. Hartman’s garage roof.
However, once upon a time, a time I was so naïve that I could never envision not being able to run all day without being winded, my, did I ever embrace pitching and hitting that slotted plastic ball!
If your memory is good and you’ve been with me since my journalistic beginnings, you may recall the subject of my very first column at the dawn of our current century. It was a reminiscence of our childhood whiffle ball.
For guys of my certain age who saw the delights of childhood in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, I think that Scotts commercial may also conjure memories of those wonderfully tranquil days when we pursued our juvenile passions with unabated zeal, sharing them with our pals that we appreciate, perhaps, more now when we view them through the prism of time.
Jim’s passing last August still prompts tears, the same I feel moistening my eyes’ corners as I write this, so special was our shared childhood. Each summer, for a period of three years back in a time when girls had little of the fascination that would take root in us a short while later, we played a full schedule. The schedule commenced in late May as school was winding down and didn’t end until the time school commenced again, in those days, the day after Labor Day. And, of course, no one back then could have ever told us school would ever begin earlier.
I represented the Yankees; Jim, the Twins; and Wayne, the Indians. All three of us were required to be at all games, with the one not playing duty-bound no matter the current standings to try his best if called upon to pinch hit or pitch in relief. Additionally, whoever wasn’t scheduled to play would update a scoreboard we’d constructed out of plywood, using tacks to post the inning-by-inning runs, and would also set off three firecrackers taped to the top of the scoreboard to signify in celebratory fashion a homerun to emulate what some ballparks were beginning to do.
My mother, who we voted as league commissioner, sometimes watched from the window of my sister Joan’s room, which overlooked the patio and home plate area, an area that included a lawn chair behind home plate. A pitch that hit the back of the chair was a called strike. Balls not fielded before passing the arc of a garden hose stretched to represent the infield’s apron were singles, balls on the fly off the fence were doubles and balls over the fence, well, you know that one. In our whiffle world, triples didn’t exist.
When summer was in full swing, our commissioner would allow one night game a week, which meant special permission had to be accessed from Wayne’s and Jim’s moms for them to be up late. Lights were strung in the oak tree that stood as a sentinel in left guarding against homeruns and on the roof line down the right-filed line along side my modest ranch in the middle of Latham’s 1500 block. I know it sounds silly, but I still remember snippets from those backyard games, games that paradoxically mattered so little but also so very much. And, when I watch my baseball now on TV and those Scotts commercials air, I remember a childhood so far gone and the scamps who made it so special, like my whiffle brothers, Wayne and Jim.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.