Outdoor baseball was good for kids, bad for grass
There was a bare spot in the back yard where the grass had been beaten into submission.
When it rained, water would fill the shallow depression and sit there, mocking us, until the next sunny day.
We had one of those spots in our back yard. Most yards did.
Dads worked hard to keep the rest of the lawn looking nice, but they had given up on the bare spots.
Grass doesn’t grow around home plate.
As a kid, most days… from the time the snow disappeared in the spring until it started again in the fall… brought a ballgame somewhere in Rose Creek.
And not many places were off-limits.
A horse pasture on the edge of town was a favorite spot for a game, provided you watched your step; gopher holes were just one of the hazards of a game in a horse pasture.
That’s why you wore old shoes.
An electric fence made for a reachable home run target, but no one ever dared to see if the fence was energized. Outfielders who had to retrieve a home run ball climbed gingerly over the wire, just in case.
And the ground rules said that whenever the horses walked through the infield on the way back to the barn it was an automatic Kool-Aid timeout.
The alley between the post office and hardware store was wide enough to accommodate a game.
The entire field was gravel, which made sliding into second inadvisable. Few of us ever slid while playing in the alley; those who did usually showed up for the next game with iron-on patches covering the new holes in the knees of their Levis and motherly advice to avoid sliding.
The bigger threat of a game in the alley, though, was a foul ball; it often meant an unwelcome dash through a neighbor's garden in hopes of retrieving the ball without getting caught somewhere between the tomatoes and the carrots.
Night games were popular under the streetlight in front of our house long before signs went up designating it as "Main Street."
The light would buzz like a swarm of cicadas, and most nights we could play until bedtime without having to move for a car.
A solid hit or sloppy fielding during a night game would send the ball rolling nearly to the edge of town (in Rose Creek "downtown" is a block from the "suburbs" and two blocks from "the edge of town"), often requiring a timeout while players from both teams searched the shadows for the ball.
Sometimes the game had to be suspended so the search could continue in daylight.
No one ever slid into second during a night game.
The games moved from day to day, and sometimes twice on Saturdays -- the playground behind the Catholic school, the open lot behind the fire station and any of a dozen back yards.
And bases were marked with whatever happened to be handy … a scrap of asphalt shingle, a chunk from a cinder block, a piece of plywood or just a spot gouged into the ground by the heel from a beat-up pair of Keds.
I can’t wait to see the Twins’ new ballpark. The game is going back outside, where it belongs.
The lights probably won’t buzz the way they did on Main Street.
Punto won’t have to move for a car or a horse.
Cuddyer won’t be sliding into a chunk of concrete.
Mauer won’t step into a gopher hole or worse.
Kubel won’t have to avoid an electric fence while chasing a fly ball.
Morneau’s mom won’t be calling him home for supper with the score tied 36-36.
But I’ll bet they all learned to love the game the way we did.
And I’ll bet most of them still have a bare spot in the back yard to prove it.