As I was driving on state Route 141, which connects Ironton and Gallipolis, while working on an unseasonably balmy late January day during our winter that seemed to set records for going from one extreme to another, I saw two boys in a field behind a ranch house.
Now, on that 60-degree day that preceded the next that plunged almost 40 degrees, pitchers and catchers still were about two weeks off from reporting to Major League Baseball’s spring training sites in Arizona and Florida, and yet here in Southern Ohio, there was this ephemeral winter opportunity to get outside after school.
Having said that, I will tell you that I was surprised to see kids outside engaged in some recreation no matter the weather in these days of iPads and other electronic avenues of amusements, but this area that has a foot in both Lawrence and Gallia counties, I’m sensing, may just be a bit different than larger cities.
Since I drive this route on a monthly basis on this road that has more than a couple switchbacks across Symmes Creek, a 76-mile tributary of the Ohio River, amidst tall trees and steep hills, I know I can never get a cell-phone signal. So, I don’t think it’s too big of a leap to say in this rural area where many of the barns and houses I see have the look of structures that have remained unchanged for decades, well, perhaps there’s a bit more reliance on more traditional means of entertainment for kids than relying on electronics.
Now, as I drove by those boys, standing approximately 25 yards apart, I assumed initially they may be kicking a soccer ball back and forth, since, in those relatively rare times I’ll see kids outside playing without adults overseeing their games, it’s usually soccer or basketball-related.
However, much to my amazement, I actually saw something attached to the left hand of each boy, a baseball glove! Now, I’m going to tell you that it’s been so long since I’ve seen a couple of kids with no adults around, doing what Ray Kinsella in the movie Field of Dreams called “having a catch,” I frankly can’t even remember.
And, as I drove on with memories flooding back to me from my own 1960s childhood when no warm-weather day passed without what we called pitch and catch, I smiled. I felt, at least for the moment, that those accorded the greatest of all gifts, youth, aren’t just a tribe addicted to their electronics.
However, based on what I see as I do a lot of driving for my labors and my leisure, I sensed that what I just saw was more of an outlier than typicality.
As to the when’s and, more importantly, the why’s for the apparent demise of unorganized play, I haven’t a clue. A National Trust survey in 2016 suggested that children spend about half as much time playing outdoors as their parents did.
Of course, the scapegoat when it comes to what is to blame for this shifting of the play dynamic has been technology, beginning with TV video games and progressing to iPads and iPhones and a myriad of game apps that are available.
Sprinkle in some parental concerns as to the dangers that may be lurking outside the front door, and you may just be seeing why things have changed. While most parents wouldn’t hesitate in driving their kids to organized play events pretty much every day of the week, many are afraid to see them head out the door as my pals and I did to expand our own creativities and settle our own disputes in our games without adult intervention until either the street lights came on or we heard the shrillness of a paternal whistle summoning us home for our nightly repose
Soon, we’ll be into our prolonged warm-weather season, and my hope is there will be more heading outside to play like those boys I saw briefly in late January, for I think that’s where the real experiences are for our youngsters.
I’m guessing that the very technological innovations that seem to hold our kids so spellbound these days were invented and built by grownups who laid the foundation for the creativity it took to build that technology by playing outside in their own youth, which is as sad to me as it is ironic.
Now that our Midwestern landscapes are again being awaken, let this be a time I see more packs of kids playing without an adult in sight. Perhaps I’ll even see a couple of kids with something attached to one of their hands standing 25 or so yards apart loosening up those arms. While Ray Kinsella would call it having a catch, my mates and I in our youthful times would called it pitch and catch.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.