The other day I saw a young guy on his way to practice, carrying a small cooler for beverages and an equipment bag that had at least six bats in it. Watching him, I promptly walked into a tree.
When I came to, I was thinking that guy had more personal bats than my entire junior league baseball team. (I was also thinking that I have to be more careful of where I’m going.)
When my head had cleared somewhat, I thought about the equipment my brothers and the neighborhood guys used to while away our summer vacation.
Well, we certainly were not well-equipped for hydration. Today you see people constantly drinking from portable water containers and water bottles as if they would dry up and blow away if they missed sipping every few minutes.
When we were thirsty, we sometimes relied on raiding the fridge for Kool-Aid or drinking glasses of tap water imported from a reservoir a few miles away. If we had a few coins, we would supplement our fluids intake with cheap soda purchased by the quart at the corner bar.
Bottled water then was tap water in a half-gallon glass container saved from the days when it held orange juice. However, this was not without its perils.
We were used to swigging from quart bottles of soda, but these half-gallon jobs were much trickier to hold especially as their sides became condensed with moisture. I have a 3-inch scar on my right wrist as proof of that.
Of course, we had to run around to generate drinking all that Kool-Aid, soda and, as a last resort, water. That’s where our sports equipment came in.
Dad had the habit of acquiring items that were a tad past their prime — a sled weighed more than many of the cars of today, sporting goods and most of the second-hand cars we owned.
Our low-ceilinged basement was the repository for the sports stuff. An assortment of balls was kept in an old, 50-pound onion mesh bag, while the bats, golf clubs and croquet mallets were stuck above some shelving.
We got good use out of the balls, but there was a drawback. My brothers and I couldn’t make the usual threat in case we were losing a ball game. If I had said, “I’m taking my ball and going home,” I would have received a round of applause.
The tennis balls that we used to play baseball in the school yard had lost their fuzz sometime before World War II. The solid rubber balls were so old that they grunted when they bounced. The hardballs we used for sandlot games were held together with black electrical tape.
At least the hardballs matched my favorite bat. Its silver paint job was only present in spots, its handle had more of the black tape and there was no knob at the end. The slippery tape on the handle and the lack of a knob made every at-bat an adventure especially on hot, sweaty-palm days.
If you drove past the field, you could see when I was a bat. The opposing pitcher was throwing from second base and every other fielder was way out in the outfield. My own teammates were cowering behind the backstop in anticipation of the bat flying out of my hands.
Baseball gear also included a catcher’s mitt and fielder’s gloves that were from the late 19th century when players stopped fielding baseballs barehanded.
There were also some strange items, such as a few croquet mallets. There were no brackets and only one croquet ball, so my brothers and I took just turns pounding it into the backyard dirt.
Dad had even picked up golf clubs and encouraged us to use them every spring. We didn’t realize until many years later he did that to have us dig up the area where mother planted vegetables.