Baseball in its purest form

By Jeffery Armstrong

Last week, I covered some youth league baseball games at South Cedar Park in McDonough and once again, I had to listen to coaches and parents yell at the kids while they were on the field. Some of it was encouraging, but most of it was just adults screaming at kids, many as young as 9, like they will make the major leagues at the tender age of 10.

It just made me reminisce about when I played baseball as a kid in Brooklyn (I lived in New York until age 11). I'm not talking about organized little league baseball, but baseball in my apartment building driveway. It's what I like to call real baseball. No parents yelling through the dugout fence at the players; no coaches yelling at you to swing the ball and no parents threatening to whip you if you don't get a hit.

I lived in Clarkson Terrace on 1035 Clarkson Avenue, Brooklyn, U.S.A. back in the day. Next to my apartment building was a walkway to the building's side door and the apartment's driveway. The walkway and the driveway were separated by a fence. The driveway was the "stadium" where the fellas and I played our daily summer baseball games. First base was the lower right side of my best friend Kevin Hunt's house, second base was a manhole-like cover in the middle of the driveway and third base was the part of the fence that was a few feet away from the cover. If you hit the tennis ball (we couldn't afford to break any windows) over the fence above the driveway's big garage door, that was a home run. You had to watch going into second because that cover was loose. If you stepped on it the wrong way, you stood a good chance of breaking your ankle.

Anyway, I was thinking about these youth league kids and wishing they could play the game as I played it. No one cared if you struck out looking and everyone had fun. I played with a great cast of characters, like Kevin, who was a great hitter and pitcher (he played Little League); "Little" Stevie Johnson, "Big" Stevie (I can't remember his last name), Kevin's younger brother Keary and this chump named Paul, who I used to get in ice-ball fights with when it snowed.

No matter how far the current youth league players go in their upcoming playoff games, I don't think they'll ever experience the pure joy I had the day I hit a home run off Kevin AND struck him out in the same game when I was 10. He and I were usually on the same team, but this time we weren't and I had the best game of my young life.

That experience for me was probably like winning a Super Bowl title.

Big Stevie coached me on pitching that game, especially to Kevin. He didn't fuss, yell or scream – he somehow got me to throw a split-finger fast ball with crazy movement and I struck out Kevin in three pitches to end the inning.

The other guys went wild and Kevin slammed his bat down in anger.

The next inning, I hit my one and only home run ever off my best friend, who was so angry he didn't shake my hand as I rounded the bases.

No matter – the cheers from my other friends was music to my ears. How can a youth league World Series title top that?

Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at jarmstrong@news-daily.com.