Kerry Temple | June 27, 2019
It was a brutal game, one of those disheartening affairs when one team is clearly outgunned and overmatched. The other team’s pitcher was throwing bullets. Their batters were ripping shots to all fields — whenever they could find a pitch to hit among all the errant offerings that begat a procession of runners advancing one walk at a time. Any chance at redemption — to actually get an out — was most often squandered by ineptitude. Fielders were simply drained of spirit by miscues, boredom and an oppressive, blood-sapping sun.
But this was tournament-play, all-star baseball, and there would be another game later that hot July day. Meet back in 90 minutes, an hour before game time. At which time I was asked to round up a half-dozen or more missing players.
I spied them on a distant field on the far edge of the vast athletic complex — one of those grand suburban facilities with multiple diamonds and an ocean of green-grass soccer fields with armies of brightly jerseyed children racing, chasing and kicking.
When I neared the stray ballplayers, I felt like an anthropologist who had stumbled upon an undiscovered tribe or a biologist who has spotted a species thought extinct. Here is what I saw. A happy-go-lucky band of 11-year-olds playing a pickup baseball game. Having fun. Capless, shirttails out. Left to the game’s essential purity: Hit the ball far away and race around the bases — until someone tags you out before you get back home. An elaborate game of chase, with the same ground rules I knew as a kid to keep it loosely competitive when you have only four or five guys to a side. Things like ghost runners, and balls hit to the right side counting as an out. And no walks; just put it in play.
In play. With no adult in sight.
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