Bobservation – play ball

By Bob McDonnell
The Surveyor

When I was in grade school, back in the 1950s, I loved baseball; any baseball — from sandlot to Little League to minor league, to the “bigs.”

At the start of baseball season, I don’t know how we did it but almost on the same day, we started bringing our gloves and baseballs to school. That genuine leather glove that had been saddle-soaped, bound up with a ball inside, and put away on a shelf for the long winter.

Before school, at recess, lunch, and after school, we were either playing catch or hitting a ball. It was a rite of spring for us.

Back then we didn’t have a way to really know when baseball season started. My family had just gotten a television, so the radio was our source of information, including baseball. Even if we had owned a television, few games were televised. Even the World Series came to us via radio. Did they even have spring training then?

When I see kids playing baseball now, I have to shake my head. It’s so organized. We started on the playground and on weekends and used a vacant lot next to our house for our playing field. Making up the ground rules to fit the circumstances worked for us.

Watching a game at the local ball field today, I am shocked at all the gear each kid has. They even need a large bag to carry it all.

Our equipment was not very sophisticated. Our gloves were not kid-sized like now. Mine belonged to my dad and was a few sizes too large for my hand.

It seems every player now has his own bat — an aluminum one to boot. We were lucky if one or two kids owned a bat. We all used the same bats. It was adult-sized too, and made of real wood.

The wood part was important. Our backup wooden bat came from going to a minor-league game. Fortunately for us, one of the players broke his bat getting a base hit. He let us have it. A couple of strategically placed wood screws gave the bat a new life for a bunch of boys. Any parent letting a kid used such an unsafe item these days might be facing child-abuse charges.

Shoes were another issue. I see kids now playing baseball — or soccer — wearing cleats. When I say kids, I mean 5- and 6-year-olds. We played ball for years in just the sneakers we wore every day. I’m not even sure if the junior high baseball team back in that day wore cleats.

That bag of goodies I mentioned young ballplayers toting around also contains a batting glove and maybe some wrist sweat bands. Such luxuries never occurred to us. In the 1950s, the best way to grip a bat was to rub some dirt on your hands as you stepped in the batter’s box.

Lastly, ballplayers at all levels seem to need sunglasses. What? We played in the hot, blazing sun without any shades. Heck, we were lucky to have a ball cap.

We seemed to survive well on the bare minimum sports equipment. So did our athletic heroes. Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Roger Maris, and the one-and-only Mickey Mantle seemed to do okay without some of the equipment an average fourth-grader can’t do without on the diamond.

Time will tell what today’s crop of cleat-wearing, sunglass-clad, gloved-handed and personal aluminum-bat-wielding-jocks have to offer.