Baseball serves as religion youth can grow up with

July 13, 2011 at 2:13 a.m.

My friends: Baseball is a religion and has been since I was a kid.

We would play "work up" before grade school, then during recess both morning and afternoon, as well as our lunch hour.

We would come home from school and the neighborhood kids would play 500 in the street. In the summer, there were neighborhood teams versus neighborhood teams. Girls played with us, some were pretty darn good too. Later, there was summer league for age groups.

"Hey batter, batter, batter."

"Pitcher's got a rubber arm."

"Swing, batter batter."

Work Up: You grab your mitt, and run to the position of your choice on the diamond. Slow kids got the outfield. Best positions were the four batters and five infield positions. When an out occurred, everyone moved up one position, and the batter who made the out trudged head down to the outfield.

What is 500? One or two batters tossing the ball in the air and hitting it as hard as he can to a group of fielders. One hundred for a caught fly ball, 75 for a one hopper, 50 for a two hopper and 25 for a grounder. When you get to 500, you get to bat and everyone starts over in points count. No matter how many players, everyone knew everyone's score, so cheating was impossible.

There were three seasons for us kids: huntin', fishin' and baseball. Many games we brought our rods and reels, bats, balls and gloves and our guns. Never did it occur to any of us to blow someone away. We even took our gear and guns to high school.

Disputes were solved with fists while the guns were in our unlocked cars and pickups in the parking lot for after school hunting while cruising country roads looking for pheasants on the way to the game.

No one was fat and out of shape. No computer games, no video games, no butt sitting. If you weren't playing outdoors, you were working the fields and orchards for spending money to buy guns and ammo, gas and ball gear, bicycles and fishing poles. Parents had no extra money for their kids' fun stuff. We earned it our own damn selves. Never heard of an allowance in my day, with my gang, in my hood.

Most of us didn't have a TV, and when we finally got one, the only things worth a flip was "American Bandstand," "Twilight Zone," "Bonanza," and "Gunsmoke" and "The Game of the Week." Better to play it than watch it though.

Several local boys made it to the big leagues. Harmon Killebrew, Pat House, Vern Law "Killer" made it to the Hall of Fame, Vern won the Cy Young, and Pat went to work for my Uncle Joe after he blew his arm out.

I wanted to be a big leaguer, even tried out for the Cubbies, but....

Baseball was a religion then and still is today for me.

I played ball well into my late 30s, but now I'm just a spectator. Over the many years of playing, I've had a dislocated left thumb, four broken ribs, a skull fracture, two broken metatarsals, and I'd suffer them all again given another chance.

Hey batter, batter, saaaw-wing batter, batter!

Darrell Sage lives in Littleton, Colo. He was a former shrimper and resident of Rockport.



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