Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your Own Field of Dreams

As I drive around Toronto, I always notice the ball diamonds that scatter the landscape. Some of them are simple schoolyard backstops with a rudimentary crushed limestone infield; some are a little more “upmarket” with a rubber, home plate and maybe even dugouts or benches behind a chain link screen. A few even have lights. I get nostalgic every time I see one.

When you’re a kid, you take these things for granted. It’s more a matter of getting some friends together, going to one of these small diamonds and playing games like Three Flies Up or Indian Ball. Actually, we didn't even need a proper playing field. I remember playing ball for hours in our front yard. (We had a fairly large one – or at least it felt large enough back when I was nine.)

Occasionally, a real game would be organized with at least eight or ten players. Sometimes it would be wiffle ball with one of those bulbous plastic bats (why were they always bright red?) and that was what we usually played in our front yard. But it was really cool to go over to FE Bellows School to play on their ball diamond. Often other kids were there. We’d make up teams and the game was on. Every kid should have an FE Bellows in their lives.

If parents got involved, things became more serious and you’d be playing Little League with a proper diamond, uniforms, helmets and even umpires. Those games were much more intimidating for me, probably because of my skill level, which was admittedly not that good back then. I always preferred the more casual affairs we kids would just throw together on our own, usually in the Strunsky’s backyard. Remember those ridiculous ground rules you’d come up with? (If the wiffle ball hit Robert’s bedroom window it was an automatic home run.)

A few years after our two boys were born, my wife and I began playing fast pitch softball with friends (the fabled Hogtown Bombers with Will and John). The league we formed, The Toronto Mixed Softball League (which quickly became The Toronto Mixed-up Softball League), needed to find diamonds on which to play. One of my favorites, Wenderly, was in a lovely little park just north of us, tucked in behind some houses and even though it’s in the middle of a big city, you’d walk in there and you’d feel as if you were out in the country. On hot afternoons, we’d move off the bench that served for our ”dugout” and sit in the shade of the willows that run down the third base line, or the beeches on the first base line. Occasionally, one of the Bomber’s heavy hitters (the sorely missed Russ West, especially) could park a ball in someone’s yard beyond the center field fence. It really felt like a legit major league homer.

Our two sons came along to the games and would help out with scoring, maybe play catch behind the backstop, or just watch the game. It was great having our own cheering section. We played there on Sundays and our joint memory of those games is just golden. Good friends, a beautiful little diamond, a warm summer evening or afternoon, the crack of the bat (well, usually a ping since we generally used aluminum ones) and the smack of the ball into Murray’s (our first baseman) glove as Will (shortstop) cleanly dispatched another would-be runner.

For a person in love with this wonderful game, what more could you ask for?


John Z said...

Rick - you just brought back some great memories for me - playing ball at Strunsky's was one of them - i played many games there with Paul and John Jacobus and many others...also remember losing some balls over the fence and being too scared of the grouchy neighbor on one side or the place with the dogs behind the "centerfield fence"..i think they made a kids movie where they were afraid to go get the ball over the fence due to the neighbor's dog. Also i spent hours on the ball field at F.E. Bellows with pickup games and Home Run Derby in the small Bellows Field with rail fences next to the old Administration Bldg...yu never knew who would be there to play but usually got into the game.."we got winnners" in HR Derby.

Rick Blechta said...

Yeah, the Weatherlys had those dogs. It was always sort of frightening cutting through their property since it was our shortcut to Union Avenue. We'd throw a stick to distract the dogs, then race down the driveway, knowing just how long their chains reached. Mr. Gratto was the old crouch. I'd forgotten about that. Wow! Those old times.

Remember playing Butt Ball, the game Jacobus and the Strunskys made up?