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Backyard Baseball, Our Best Times

(I was going through some of our archives today and came across this column from a few years ago. I guess it is one of my favorites. Well, it did get me the South Carolina Press Association's top sports writing column of 2012 award. Heck, I told ya'all I was a writer!)

It's summer time! How many kids have you seen outside playing baseball in their backyards? It is a scene as rare as hen's teeth these days. But it wasn't always that way.

On Route 2, Travelers Rest during my boyhood days we had no access to little league or organized baseball but that little fact didn't stop us from playing the game in the big (so it seemed at that time) green space between Dayton Tyler's house and the white two story Holcombe house.

The absence of adult regulation of our games didn't bother us. We made up our own rules. Four foul balls was an out and any defensive player that managed to throw the ball and hit a baserunner before he reached first base, well, the baserunner might be nursing a bump on the head on the head but he would be out. Catching a ball on the first bounce was also an out.

If nobody showed up with a bat we never let that stop us at all. Our bats ranged from smooth tree limbs to plastic whiff ball bats to broken bats held together with a nail and tape. The ball was sometimes a rubber ball or a real baseball that had lost its cover. I managed to talk my folks into buying me a real baseball sometimes and learned quickly how far the real thing can travel. The real baseball was suddenly retired one day when Mrs. Holcombe was outside hanging clothes on the clothes line and someone hit a line drive shot between her upstretched hands as she was about to hang Mr. Holcombe's undershirt. That's when we learned to adjust when adversity arises.

Games usually developed late in the afternoon during the summer. Players usually included my friends Charles Holcombe, his brothers Danny and Ray and his sister Vickie. Steve and Keith Barnes would also join in as well as Greg Barnes on occasions.

Charles was a little older that the rest of us and taught us such things as using "invisible" runners. That worked this way. After you hit the ball and made it to first base, you said, "invisible man on first" and then went back and batted again. I always thought this was a unique way to play baseball and assumed we were the only kids using the invisible man rule but as an adult I've researched the rule and it seems to be universal kid phenomenon.

Charles also taught us such things as the important ground rule involving the Holcombe's dog that was chained in their backyard in deep rightfield. The dog was mean so, any ball hit inside the length of the dog's chain was an automatic out and whoever hit it would have to brave up and fetch it. Some of our games ended with, "game over, the dog's got the ball."

Charles added another important rule later one day. Any ball that hits his house and causes his mom to come outside is an immediate suspension of play and then it would be every man for himself.

The worn spot in the grass near the Tyler's house was home plate. First base was usually a brick while second was probably like an empty potato chip bag. Third base was a white pine tree.

We did our own umpiring which usually resulted in someone getting mad and going home but that didn't stop the game unless the homebound kid happened to take the ball or bat home with him. If anyone did get angry, all was usually well again by the next afternoon when another game would start.

We played from afternoon until it got too dark to see the ball. We tried to play after dark once or twice with flashlights but that never worked out too well. Scores of 65-60 were not uncommon but nobody remembered who won and who lost for very long because winning wasn't the most important thing back then. We were just kids enjoying our time out of school and being able to play together. We had no cell phones, no video games, out television sets only received three channels. We rode our bikes with cardboard strips attached to the spokes to imitate the sounds of motorcycles. But baseball was our common bond without adult organization and involvement. Once or twice my dad or mom would watch us play and many times they told us, "you kids are having the times of your lives but you won't realize it until you are grown up." Today, I know what they meant.

Eventually we moved away from the neighborhood. Those houses and our makeshift baseball field have been torn down nd ar part of the Northwest Middle School campus on Geer Highway. I don't know whatever happened to those neighborhood baseball friends and I haven't seen any of them in many, many years.

I've covered many sports. I've been many places and I just don't see kids playing baseball in their backyards any more. I hate to think those great times aren't being experienced by the youth of today somewhere. Yeah, backyard baseball - it was the best times of our lives.


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