Last week the 106th opening game was held at Fenway Park.
In my old Darlington neighborhood of the 1950’s that meant a group of 9 and 10 year old boys would magically decide to head towards our makeshift ball field. We simply called it the “lot”.
Leaving home I would yell, “Mom, I’m going to the lot.”, as I scurried out the door.
The lot was a small oval plot of scruffy grass, encircled by Warwick and Windsor Avenues, plunked in the middle of our working class neighborhood. Woefully undersized for a ballpark, just 60 feet wide and 150 feet long, our gang made it work. Flat rocks were bases and telephone poles marked fair from foul. The only base paths were formed by our youthful romping. We had no fence.
One benefit of the size was the need for fewer players. We could manage with just 3 to a side; pitcher, shortstop and outfielder. The space was so tiny the pitcher could cover first base. A volunteer from the batting team would catch. The catcher was important because if the ball got past him it could easily land on the street and roll towards the sewer opening in the nearby curb. More than once we pried open the sewer cover and held onto the ankles of a playmate while we dangled him into the well to return our baseball, probably held together by black electrical tape, from the dark, dank mess.
The decision of which team batted first was decided by a vividly remembered ritual. One team captain would toss the bat vertically to the other captain who would catch it with one hand. The captains then topped each other fist over fist towards the knob of the bat. Whichever captain’s fist was the last able to fit on the bat’s barrel won the right for his team to hit first. However, before the bat toss, it was critical to establish if the “fingers” or “bottle cap” rules were in play for these arcane exceptions would change the outcome.
For the most part the neighbors who lived in the houses encircling our field were tolerant of the noise and potential damage to their properties. The one exception was a couple who lived in a home in foul territory past first base. They would keep any errant ball and worst of all they had the only picture window on the block! Fortunately, despite our unanimous hero worshipping of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, all our gang were righties and we played slow pitch to keep most hits heading towards left field.
Until Charlie moved into the very house next to the picture window home. Charlie was different. He was a year older. He was rugged. He was an unrepentant lefty. After a few close calls with the dreaded window youthful innovation came to the rescue. When Charlie came to bat we simply flipped the field moving home plate to center field and Charlie’s pulled line drive shots would simply crash into a row of tall bushes.
The peculiarities of our oval island field come rushing back. The first player spotting an approaching vehicle would call out, “Cahh, cahh!” in our strong Rhode Island accent and play would momentarily halt. Our seventh inning breaks would consist of sitting on the steps of Artinian’s the mom and pop market located, in a Norman Rockwellian twist, directly behind home base. I’d drink Nehi grape while eating a Zagnut bar.
Curiously we never knew, nor much cared, who owned this little oval of green paradise. We never saw it being maintained. I guess our nonstop baseball, football and track games kept it from being overgrown.
I drove by the other day. A mature tree now rises from our old home plate. I see no sign of a worn basepath.
Times change, but early Spring will always bring these memories back to me.