I suppose I’m like many parents in that I feel slightly sad that my kids’ childhoods didn’t include much footloose-and-fancy-free time roaming the neighborhood. Certainly I was to blame as much as anybody, as I felt compelled to always know where they were, who they were with, what adult was in charge. The suburban areas where they grew up provided so many tempting activities that one could fill one’s day, sunup to sundown, with classes, camps, sports teams and countless other organized activities. And, of course, the lure of screens–television, video games, computers–was a mighty challenge.
So I fear my kids were shortchanged the opportunity to ramble around the neighborhood at will in packs of kids. The neighborhood environs are probably better off for it; but I’ve always wondered if their upbringing didn’t suffer.
In particular, my younger son, the baseball player, never knew the joy of a spontaneous game of pickup baseball, which requires a substantial group of kids to support two teams. The most he could do when a few friends came over was a friendly round of catch.
He played on plenty of teams through the years–Little League, Babe Ruth, high school JV and varsity. But always, there were adults in charge. A coach and at least one assistant. Moms to run the snack bar. Occasionally someone to announce the game over the loudspeaker. Dads yelled in plenty of advice from the sidelines. Moms passed out team rosters, complete with pictures as computer desktop technology advanced. Someone was always in charge of the much-maligned after-game snacks. (No sweets, only healthy!)
Now he plays on a club team at William and Mary. Not the varsity team, where players are recruited and, well, maybe not pampered, but I’m guessing they don’t wash their own uniforms. The guys on the club team pile into a bunch of cars and head out for Saturday afternoon double headers with other club teams, some a couple hours away.
The team is run entirely by the guys. They make arrangements with other teams, reserve ball fields, and organize carpools. They wash their own uniforms. If they don’t bring helmets, bases, balls and the catcher’s protective gear, they don’t have them. They’re the coaches, the score keepers. The only adults with any authority are the umpires, who are hired by the fellows.
My husband and I were one of a few sets of parents who drove to see Saturday’s match-up. The weather was great, we had no other pressing activities, and it was just two hours from our house.
I loved seeing my kid playing on a slightly rough and tumble ball field next to a cemetery where they had to stop when it got too dark to see the ball (no money to turn on the lights). Where no Dads were imparting wisdom, riling them up when they got complacent, or settling them down when tempers flared. No Mom’s selling hotdogs. Just a bunch of kids playing ball.
(We heard someone call him Sticks and couldn’t figure out where such a nickname would come from. He’s not short or fat, but neither is he tall and lanky. Turns out they were referring to his number, 11.)