Nothing like 50s and 60s for baseball
Posted: June 30, 2010,Lake Country Reporter
While most people complain about getting old, I love it. I wish I was older, at least a couple of years so the government could send me those good social security checks, and maybe supply some health insurance while they’re at it. As for my kids, maybe when I get older they’ll quit begging me for all kinds of favors, mainly money.
As I drive around during these beautiful, warm, sunny afternoons, I never see a pickup baseball game, a game of strikeout, a wiffle ball game, a game of 500, maybe pickle or home run derby. Heck, I don’t even see young kids on the street.
I know where they are. Instead of being outside, playing some baseball with their friends, they’re inside their houses, playing X-Box 360 or whatever it’s called. If not, they’re playing other games on their computers, such as Call of Duty, Halo or Grand Theft Auto.
Back in the day, it was baseball all day. I packed a lunch, played a pickup baseball game in the morning, strikeout in the afternoon and then, two nights a week, it was time for a Little League game. When I didn’t have a game at night, I was at the Land O’ Lakes games in Hartland, watching the likes or Junior Klink of Hartland, Pete and Terry Stapleton and George Miller of North Lake, Jack Murphy of Merton, Chuck and Russ Bergles and Al “Stork” Hansen of Pewaukee and Ron Athas, Don Luko and Marty Barker of Oconomowoc.
I can remember leaving my house at 9 in the morning, putting my glove over the handlebars, holding onto my lunch and wearing my best pair of tennis shoes. Come to think of it, it was my only pair of tennis shoes, and most of the time they were worn out. Now, what, do kids have five pairs of tennis shoes, or more? Nowadays, they can’t figure out which pair to wear, the Nikes or Addidas. For what one of those pairs cost, we could buy two pairs, a baseball glove, two hardballs and two bats.
In our day, every building we could find that had a brick wall (no windows close by, of course), some room to hit the ball, a fence or tree line to designate a home run, was home to a strikeout field. The strike zone was marked in chalk on the wall, and any pitch that hit the line or went inside it of it was a strike.
The strike zone was the same for everyone, whether you were 6-foot Clem Fetkenhauer, who was 25 years older than us, or 5-foot-8 Johnny Engel, who was impossible to strike out. As a 5-4 kid, you learned to hit pitches that were eye-high.
We played with fuzzy tennis balls and wooden bats. If you could hit the tree line at the old Hartland Grade School on Capitol Drive, you were Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew wrapped into one. When the tennis balls broke, we went and bought a new can, and they were white then, not bright yellow. And if you could throw a curve with the tennis ball, you were either Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn or Sandy Koufax And Clem or Carl Benz had the best curve in town. Charlie Lippert had a big advantage on us playing strikeout. He lived right across the street.
The pickup baseball games were the best. Sometimes we only had six or eight guys. You ran the bases just like Major Leaguers, but each team had one or two imaginary runners if they needed them. With that few guys, you had to pick which side of second base you were going to hit to. If you hit it to the wrong side of second, you were out. I hated it when we had seven right-handers and one lefty, Bob Mallow. If we knew we had all righties, we’d conveniently forget to call Mallow.
We played with whatever kind of hardball we could find. Sometimes they were about as hard as a sock. Every now and then, somebody’s mom would buy us a new one. As for bats, it was more like bat. We always had just one, two if we were lucky. When the wood broke, we got a couple of screws and put it back together. We played weeks with a cracked bat. Now, I have girlfriends that don’t last that long.
These games were played all over the Lake Country: at Nixon Park in Hartland, the Armory in Oconomowoc and the Village Park in Pewaukee. The games were the same, only the players were different.
I just don’t get why the baseball fields never have anyone on them during the day. Don’t these modern-day kids get it?
Granted, we didn’t have X-Box back then, not even computers. Maybe color television if we were lucky.
But what we did have is a love for the game of baseball, a love I know doesn’t exist the same way today. And that’s too bad.