After last week’s column about my whiffle ball memories, in my e-mail box I found several responses from men of a certain age (around my 65 years as of Tuesday of last week). It was the same range of reactions I got 15 or so years ago when I wrote about whiffle ball.
A couple of the emails said the column elicited such strong memories of their own whiffle times that, as Tom Turner put it, “It jerked a tear from my eye.”
As I read and responded to the e-mails, reading my kindred aficionados’ memories of their games and the rules by which they were governed, I had several thoughts, many of which revolved around today’s children. What I have to say, without question, comes with a warning, as in, “The thoughts expressed in this column may be construed by some to be those of a cranky old dude, stuck in the past who’s unwilling to see much in today’s world that’s better than his yesterdays.”
Following the family move from my birth city of Chicago, my Lima growing-up years were comprised mostly of days spent with my mates devising and playing games not organized and overseen by a single person over the age of 11 or so.
Whether it was a morning or early afternoon sandlot hardball game on the now deserted diamonds of Faurot Park (that is, until adults and children arrive around 5 or so for league play) or a whiffle ball game in my backyard, nearly all our play was played and governed by only us.
Without realizing what we were doing, we cultivated our sets of social skills, ones we would use in future years. While we thought it would be light years before those days would arrive, little could we have known then that time passage would come with a few flutters of our eyelids, not the time it takes for beam of light to travel 6 trillion miles through space.
Whether at Faurot or in the backyard or organizing our own summer Olympics in 1960, so captivated were we by the Rome Games we saw on TV, the first time the Summer Games were televised, hosted by a then-little-known Jim McKay, we developed creativity. We solved our own disputes, especially arguments over what men my age remember as “ball in hand,” meaning did a ball thrown by a fielder to the pitcher when there weren’t enough of us to have a first baseman arrive before the runner touched that piece of cardboard weighted by a rock that was our first base?
We learned more than a bucket full about fair play and, sometimes, the consequences of tarnished reputations when our actions occasionally fell below that fair-play bar. We learned about group effort, about how to win without gloating too much, and about how to lose with the realization that there would be other days to chase our victories.
As I look at the technological wonders in today’s world and all that’s available to children, I wonder where those sandlot and whiffle ball games are, where there are groups of children devising their own rules and playing games without an adult around, settling their own disputes and learning so much about themselves.
In my case, sure, there were moments my play activities were overseen by men I called Coach Dornick, when I was a midget-football Bombardier, Coach Gerding, when I was a St. Charles CYO basketball Redwing, and Coach McGraw, when I was a Little League Raven, wearing not the full uniform I see youth teams wear today but only a T-shirt and hat, jeans and tennis shoes. However, overwhelmingly, we played without adults.
Back in a time when there was nary a video game and apples were for eating and not for iPads, my, did we ever play! We played until we heard the shrill whistle of a father’s call to the dinner table and then back out again until our streets were awash with the illumination of street lights before trudging home from our day’s final play, the nightly hide-and-seek, chuckling over how covertly we hid and how vigilantly we sought.
And, at the risk of sounding like the worst cliché of a recent Medicare recipient, I have to wonder whether the kiddos of today are somehow missing the golden moments I remember so vividly.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.