Sticks, Rocks, Hog Houses, and Freshly Mown Carpet...
Mom's Cookies Were the Performance-enhancing Drugs
My fantasy baseball existed well before cable TV and the Internet bought the rights to our imaginations. A team I called the Sparrows led my baseball league in the summer of ’59, but a broken pane of glass in the hog house window slowed their potent hitting attack. My league focused on stick-and-rock games played in the gravel lane that separated our house from the feedlots, and the hog house made a perfect right field wall.
It wasn’t a classic green monster, and the only vines may have been a few stray weeds at ground level, but any rock I hit against the wall was a single, onto the sloping shingles a double, and over the roof into the lot a homerun. Triples only occurred when I clinked a rock off the aluminum cupola. Unlike Fenway or Wrigley, this outfield section had a few small glass windows, and anytime I cracked one of those, my teams would take a road trip until the incident simmered down. Dad had enough to do without having to clean bits of glass out of the farrowing stalls.
My other venue was the north side of the house. With only one window set low, the white board siding offered an easy target for a nine-year-old with a tennis ball and well-used glove. If the ball bounced back and I caught it in the air or I fielded a grounder cleanly and threw to a designated spot on the wall, the batter was out. If my pitch resulted in a return that went over my head or I made an error, the runner was on. An occasional ricochet between the eaves and the wall resulted in a bunt. The imaginary runners regularly beat the throw, especially if I subconsciously pulled for the team at bat. The umpires seemed to favor certain squads.
Dad’s office was on the other side of the wall. Like the Cubs of old, I didn’t have night games, so he seldom did paperwork during game time, but the constant thump of the ball in late afternoons must have been maddening. His desk was near the lone window, and even though I never broke the plastic-like double-pane, I imagine my errant throws caused him to mistype a few keystrokes on his Smith-Corona.
During the off-season or on rainy nights, I drafted my younger brothers to play in the indoor league. Our fantasy games consisted of baseball cards and marbles or rolled-up aluminum foil balls. Poker chips made sturdy bases, and a good surface was crucial. Linoleum and wooden floors were useless, and shag carpet was like playing in an overgrown pasture. A thick, short-cropped carpet made the best field, and the dimensions were up to the participants. I imagine we had brush-back pitches, questionable calls, and a few collisions at home plate, but mom’s chocolate chip cookies were our only performance-enhancing drugs, and all-in-all, we got along fine.
Being the oldest brother, I probably pulled rank and made the final umpiring decisions more often than not. But, as Tom Hanks once said, there’s no crying in baseball, and the carpet league kept us happy; even the electric baseball game that came one Christmas didn’t win us over. The low electric hum and the slow-moving players couldn’t match the intensity of the game playing out in our heads.
I’m not sure how many years the fantasy leagues survived. We had Rocky Colavito, Nellie Fox, and Hank Aaron on contract for at least a few years or until their bubble gum cards wore out. My brother Tom says that we occasionally fell into “Dizzy Dean lingo” during that era because we watched the Game of the Week on our black and white TV. “He slud into third” was acceptable around the house, but I don’t think we would have been allowed to say Dizzyisms like, “I ain’t what I used to be, but who the hell is?”
After a few years, the baseball cards faded and the rock pitchers gave up too many homeruns over the hog house. By the time I was eleven, my brothers and our cousins down the road formed a league that had a bit more reality to it including a tree for first base, heated arguments, and a few games called on account of chores. Decades later, my childhood fantasy league was rejuvenated for a time when my son spent hours tossing a ball against a concrete wall, and he even played a few carpet league games with me. I knew things were changing though. During one close contest, I flipped the tinfoil ball to first just before his runner touched the chip. But my son not only disputed the call, he replayed the whole scene in “slow motion video,” and in his version the runner touched just before my ball arrived. I couldn’t argue with technology.
I wonder what type of fantasy baseball experiences kids encounter nowadays. I hope they include a chipped wooden bat, a beat-up rubber ball, and a freshly mown carpet.
by dan gogerty (top pic from ingridlml.loveitsomuch.com and bottom one from aghistoryproject.org)