The end of kids playing pickup baseball

The Gray Eagle

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 1, 2001
13,000
An interesting article by Stan Grossfield about the decline and virtual disappearance of pickup baseball:


If you're over 45 or so and post on this site, then you probably played a lot of pickup games growing up. You may remember, like me, those game really fondly as some of the best times of being a kid. Now it's incredibly rare to find a bunch of kids playing ball on a field with no adults. I can't even remember the last time I saw something like that.

"Decades ago, it was a simpler time during the golden age of pickup baseball. You would head down to the school yard, choose sides, and play baseball all day long.

No bases? Someone would grab an empty pizza box or a ripped shirt and anchor it down. No glove? The kid playing your position would flip you his between innings. There were no umps, no parents, and no travel teams. There was just one rule: Be home on time for dinner.

Those were the days before parents controlled youth sports. Now a pickup baseball game is as rare as a Red Sox win in London."


I think it's sad for kids that they don't really play pickup baseball anymore. But it sure doesn't seem like it's going to come back anytime soon, if ever.
 

luckiestman

Son of the Harpy
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
13,756
I’m 40, played a fair amount of pickup in the park but even more of hits, runs, and errors against a wall

My kids are not likely to ever do either
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jul 2, 2006
16,721
Philadelphia
I played a lot of backyard wiffleball and catch as a kid but I honestly don't ever remember once playing pickup baseball.

On the other hand, I played a lot of pickup basketball at different playgrounds and gyms around town. All the article's claims about helicopter parents not letting kids out of their sight and travel teams dominating everything should be relevant for basketball as well. Yet they aren't.
 

pappymojo

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 28, 2010
4,984
I played a lot of backyard wiffleball and catch as a kid but I honestly don't ever remember once playing pickup baseball.

On the other hand, I played a lot of pickup basketball at different playgrounds and gyms around town. All the article's claims about helicopter parents not letting kids out of their sight and travel teams dominating everything should be relevant for basketball as well. Yet they aren't.
I have two kids and while it's true that they are less interested in baseball the article makes a lot of assumptions. In addition, some of the people who are quoted are, well, full of crap.

“It is a training ground in American democracy,” he says. “The great thing about pickup neighborhood games is you don’t put all the good players on one team like you do in the travel team world. You split them up because if you don’t split them up and you’re not inclusive, you don’t have a game.”
Wheeler says there were no fights back in his day.
“It was just an automatic thing that we respected each other,” he says. “We played wherever we could to have some fun. But now times have changed.”
We were inclusive. There were no fights. We respected each other.

If anything, kids today are more inclusive and respectful of differences than they were when I was growing up.
 

Spacemans Bong

chapeau rose
SoSH Member
I played a lot of backyard wiffleball and catch as a kid but I honestly don't ever remember once playing pickup baseball.

On the other hand, I played a lot of pickup basketball at different playgrounds and gyms around town. All the article's claims about helicopter parents not letting kids out of their sight and travel teams dominating everything should be relevant for basketball as well. Yet they aren't.
I think kids have definitely internalized to some extent that baseball is too hard to play pickup - although the continuing popularity of wiffle ball probably rebuts that to some degree. But kids aren't playing sports outside unsupervised almost no matter what. I played a ton of ball hockey, wiffle and kickball as a kid, and rode my bike, but I never really see kids doing that these days (when I'm in the US) except for the bike riding.

I don't think I've ever seen pickup baseball, even when I was a kid. But I didn't see that much pickup hoops or pickup soccer. When I did, it was really adults, half of whom come to organized pickup soccer on Wednesdays (really).

Hell, soccer is definitely still extremely popular in the UK and even though the council estate across the street from my house has a shitload of kids, I don't actually see that much pickup soccer. Maybe once or twice a summer. So I think it's structural. Video games and helicopter parenting really do get closer to the mark than THE DECLINE OF BASEBALL *clutches pearls*.
 

dhappy42

Straw Man
Oct 27, 2013
7,379
Michigan
Nostalgia. As I write, I’m walking past a park with four baseball diamonds. Not a single one is being used. When I was a kid, they’d all be full with pickup games. Hell, we used to play in the empty part of a cemetery.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jul 2, 2006
16,721
Philadelphia
I think kids have definitely internalized to some extent that baseball is too hard to play pickup - although the continuing popularity of wiffle ball probably rebuts that to some degree. But kids aren't playing sports outside unsupervised almost no matter what. I played a ton of ball hockey, wiffle and kickball as a kid, and rode my bike, but I never really see kids doing that these days (when I'm in the US) except for the bike riding.

I don't think I've ever seen pickup baseball, even when I was a kid. But I didn't see that much pickup hoops or pickup soccer. When I did, it was really adults, half of whom come to organized pickup soccer on Wednesdays (really).

Hell, soccer is definitely still extremely popular in the UK and even though the council estate across the street from my house has a shitload of kids, I don't actually see that much pickup soccer. Maybe once or twice a summer. So I think it's structural. Video games and helicopter parenting really do get closer to the mark than THE DECLINE OF BASEBALL *clutches pearls*.
Really? That definitely surprises me. I thought there was a big causal football culture on council estates and such places in England. But I don't live there and could be completely wrong.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 26, 2005
17,429
I think the biggest reason there are few pickup games is the rise of the two working parent families. My kid is in camp from 8 to 6 something like 48 weeks a year. So during the day, he and a lot of his friends are in camp being supervised because parents can't do that.

Then, a kid who spends 10 hours in school/after care or camp is not going out to play pickup when he gets home. And weekends are overscheduled (both for kids and adults).

It's hard getting four kids together much less 10 or 12.
 

John Marzano Olympic Hero

has fancy plans, and pants to match
Dope
Apr 12, 2001
20,399
No matter what year it is, baseball is a tough sport to play pick-up. If you want to play it "right", you have to find 18 kids. When I was a kid, we'd play Indian Ball (I have no idea what the etymology of that name is, but our high school team was the Indians) where you could play ball with half the kids, but as a batter you had to pull the ball because that's where all the fielders were. In other words, if you were a rightly there would be a third baseman, a shortstop, a left fielder and center fielder. When a lefty stepped up, you would shift over.

That's still a lot of kids, at least eight assuming that you have someone on the other team pitch, catch and you're using ghost men as base runners.

But like Bonger says, if you drive around, no kids are playing pick-up anything. I live in the suburbs and there are two parks within a mile of my house. No kids are using the baseball diamonds, soccer fields or basketball courts, pretty much ever. In the winter, the ice is vacant and I can't remember the last time I saw anyone playing football. The fact is, unorganized baseball isn't dying; unorganized sports is and I think it's because of two reasons:

1. Kid sports is insane. A lot of parents see their kids as tickets to scholarships, so they force them into "mastering" one sport for 12 months. They play Little League in the spring, travel team in the summer and fall ball in the autumn, followed by indoor training when it's too cold to go outside. Same thing for soccer, hoops and hockey. I was talking to one of my daughter's friend's father and he told me that hockey season starts on Labor Day and runs through May. In the summer they go to power skating camps and other stuff. If you're a kid and you're playing baseball or hockey or soccer for ten months, do you want to play pick up anything? I'd want to stare at a wall for two months.

2. Changing parental mores. My eldest daughter is almost 12-years-old and my wife and I are still nervous about letting her ride her bike a quarter mile away to visit her friend. And we're not alone. If you free-range your kid, there wi'll be a cop at your house in 20 minutes. That's hyperbole, but the idea of letting your kid out at 9:00 am and telling them to come back for dinner isn't done any more. I don't know whether it's good or bad (I was raised by the former way where I was booted out in the morning and told to find something to do); but it's the way things are now. In fact, I was telling my kids that when I was their age I never had a playdate and the first thing they said was, "did no one like you?" I had to explain that their grandmother made me leave the house and I had to walk down the street to my friend's house and see if he was there, if he wasn't I'd go to the next house and the next, and if no one was home, I'd go hang out at the park. For a number of reasons, we don't afford our kids that freedom any more.

I don't really know about the popularity of baseball, I think Rob Manfred is doing a pretty good job at making it less popular by tinkering with it, but I do know that baseball is not going anywhere anytime soon. Boomers are programmed with the need to write these stories every few weeks so that they can shake their fists at their impeding deaths and cry about how things are changing. You know what, no one shoots marbles or chases a hoop down the street with a stick either. The world is still spinning.
 
Last edited:

luckiestman

Son of the Harpy
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
13,756
I think the biggest reason there are few pickup games is the rise of the two working parent families. My kid is in camp from 8 to 6 something like 48 weeks a year. So during the day, he and a lot of his friends are in camp being supervised because parents can't do that.

Then, a kid who spends 10 hours in school/after care or camp is not going out to play pickup when he gets home. And weekends are overscheduled (both for kids and adults).

It's hard getting four kids together much less 10 or 12.

Yet another casualty of the cult of work
 

Kliq

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 31, 2013
10,619
While there probably is a decline in pick-up sports in general due to an increased focus on parental supervision, I don't think that is the main reason. I think their are several reasons:

1. Baseball IS less popular with kids today than it was in prior generations, so naturally less kids are going to be playing baseball. By the time I was in high school, the only people I knew who played baseball were the people on the baseball team.

2. There are less kids then there were during the boomer generation. That probably depends on where you live, but my mother graduated from Waltham High School in 1979 with almost 900 kids in her graduating class, not even counting the hundreds of kids that went to the Vocational school. In 2012 I graduated from the same high school with 450 kids in my grade, and that was including the Voc. kids who had been moved into the high school by that point. With twice as many kids per grade, I'm sure it was easier to get the necessary numbers to play a decent pick-up baseball game.

3. The cost of equipment has gone up. For a pick-up game you only need to know one kid with a bat, and nobody needs spikes or a batting helmet. Everyone still needs a glove though, and even a basic youth glove is probably around $50. If your kid doesn't play little league and has never played baseball before, I'm not sure a lot of parents would pay that much for their kid to try something with their friends once; I know mine wouldn't.

4. There are more entertainment options in general; not just video games but streaming services have made TV more interesting especially for kids, as well as social media in general. In the boomer generation if you wanted to hang out with a bunch of people and see what they were up to, you probably needed to go down to the playground. That isn't the case anymore.

5. I have zero evidence to really back this up, but I don't think kids care as much about sports as they used to, and if they do it is in a different way. Following sports is different, I know people in my generation who are big fans of the NBA but also don't really watch games; they follow the culture/scuttlebutt on their phones and see highlights on YouTube and Twitter, but probably didn't watch a single NBA game from start to finish last season. That could translate to kids still enjoying sports, but not exactly PLAYING them, while most people would see that as being one in the same. Like I said, I have no way to really prove that, but maybe some people with kids have noticed a similar trend?
 

Red(s)HawksFan

Member
SoSH Member
Jan 23, 2009
11,200
Maine
I think the biggest reason there are few pickup games is the rise of the two working parent families. My kid is in camp from 8 to 6 something like 48 weeks a year. So during the day, he and a lot of his friends are in camp being supervised because parents can't do that.

Then, a kid who spends 10 hours in school/after care or camp is not going out to play pickup when he gets home. And weekends are overscheduled (both for kids and adults).

It's hard getting four kids together much less 10 or 12.
Yes to this. I grew up in a two working parent home, though it was in an era where kids of a particular age (say 10+) were still allowed to roam around all day on their own regardless of who was home. Even so, I played a lot more pick-up basketball, tennis, soccer, and football than I did baseball. Only need two for basketball or tennis (1 on 1) and four for soccer or football, though more was obviously better. In my neighborhood, that was about the extent of who was available. Didn't stop us from playing HR derby or just have batting practice if we wanted to play baseball, but we had to do some long range planning, make some phone calls, and venture outside our normal area to get a real game going. I can only remember one or two actual games being organized and played despite lots of talk.
 

The Gray Eagle

Member
SoSH Member
Aug 1, 2001
13,000
I grew up in a really small town, so we never had anything close to 18 kids for pickup games. But you could usually get maybe 6 or 7 kids to play, and you'd just use ghost runners and make up rules, etc.
The important part, and the best part, was no adults anywhere.
 

bankshot1

Member
SoSH Member
Feb 12, 2003
16,825
where I was last at
Generally the only time "we" played 9-on-9 was Little League, or school, but in the summers (late 50s-early 60s) we played every interation of the game to accomodate 6-18 kids in total. And we made up rules to accomodate the situation. Generally it was a pitcher SS, 1B, and 2 OF. The idea was to hit/catch/throw and run the bases and generally play the game. Mostly it was hardball on the Williams School field in Auburndale (Newton) but it could have been backyard wiffle-ball, or step ball on someone's front yard. No texting, everyone knew there was a game and we showed up around 9.
 

Bergs

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 22, 2005
13,318
Some of the fondest memories of my childhood definately involve pickup baseball, and no, I haven't seen one in at least a decade; maybe more.
 

Max Power

thai good. you like shirt?
SoSH Member
Jul 20, 2005
3,699
Boston, MA
I was a kid in Medford/Somerville in the 80s and never played pickup baseball. It was all wiffle ball in driveways, parking lots, or other spaces around the neighborhood.

As a parent of a 1 and 4 year old, I'm terrified of the day when they can go out alone. Not because I think anything is going to happen to them, but because I don't want to be dragged to jail for letting a 10 year old walk two blocks to JP Licks. It's terrible for their development as independent people. Maybe we should move to Europe, although they'll be playing soccer instead of baseball, which is its own set of problems.
 

bigq

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 15, 2005
3,912
Growing up I had two working parents and I played pick up wiffleball and football. I have not paid close attention but I cannot remember seeing kids doing the same any time in the past ten or more years. Now I have three girls ages 5, 8 and 11 and they have no interest in pick up games but I don’t think my sisters did when they were kids either.
 

fiskful of dollars

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 14, 2005
1,399
Charlottesville, VA
Pickup baseball in Va. Beach. Wiffle-Ball, peeled tennis ball, baseball, whatever... 4-10 kids, ad-hoc rules, ghost runners, no walks, balls hit to right field were an automatic out. No umps, no parents, no fights.


Best memories from childhood.
 

Preacher

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jun 9, 2006
1,812
Vicenza, Italy
I mainly played with the kids in he neighborhood and we usually topped out around 6-8 kids. A lot of whiffle ball in various back yards requiring rule shuffling (ghost runners, pitchers mound poison, trees that became foul poles, etc.). We played a lot of basketball and street hockey in the driveways too. This was in the Boston suburbs in the early 90s. At my friend's high school graduation party, we got a game going in his backyard. I was 17 at the time and I broke my ankle (tibia actually) running to first. It required two surgeries and ended by whiffle ball career. Well, that, and going off to college.
 

canderson

Fomenting voting confusion and angst since 2016
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jul 16, 2005
23,794
Harrisburg, Pa.
I'm 37 and we never played baseball. It was always football or basketball, mostly football. That was in Texas where football rules all, of course.

But even here in PA if you drive by baseball fields they are always empty unless there is a tourney. It's sad but baseball just isn't a cultural critical game and hasn't been for decades to kids.

I'm guessing this could also be very regional - ie Cape Cod kids play baseball because the wonderful Cape Cod League. etc. etc.
 

WV Sox Fan

lurker
Jul 16, 2005
14
Harpers Ferry, WV
Like several others here I was a child of the 60s-70s. I grew up in Western Mass and some of my fondest memories are of days playing pick up baseball. We never had enough guys to play so we made do with however many showed up. Often it was 8 or 10 of us of different ages and abilities but we made it work. If we didn't have enough we'd just have batting practice or home run derby but we were playing. Sometimes it was in one of our neighbor's big side yards and when we grew older, it was often in the cornfield near by (after harvest or when it was fallow...either way grounders were an adventure).

When it wasn't baseball season, we were playing pick up football (tackle, no pads) or street hockey (the snowbanks kept the ball in the "rink"). When we were older we'd go to the rink behind the country store down the road and play pick up hockey for hours.

The greatest thing about it all was that although we had our disagreements, we learned to work them out ourselves. That's an element that's missing when all sports are supervised. We can and did learn to mediate differences and often learn to be peacemakers. I think baseball also taught me how to handle the times when I failed...struck out, made an error, overran a base, whatever... and help lift up others when they messed up.

One final thought...as far as baseball's declining popularity with the younger generation, I wonder if it may be less that they are pulled towards other activities (video games, etc.) and possibly more that they never had the opportunity to develop the love of the game that has always come from playing it...the thrill of hitting a home run, the joy of legging out a triple, the "yes!" moment of making a great running catch or throwing somebody out at home... Those things created and embedded my love of the game even more so than all the organized baseball I played through my life.

Maybe, kids just never had the chance to learn to love the game.
 

MyDaughterLovesTomGordon

Member
SoSH Member
Jun 26, 2006
8,419
2. Changing parental mores. My eldest daughter is almost 12-years-old and my wife and I are still nervous about letting her ride her bike to a quarter mile away to visit her friend. And we're not alone. If you free-range your kid, they'll be a cop at your house in 20 minutes. That's hyperbole, but the idea of letting your kid out at 9:00 am and telling them to come back for dinner isn't done any more. I don't know whether it's good or bad (I was raised by the former way where I was booted out in the morning and told to find something to do); but it's the way things are now. In fact, I was telling my kids that when I was there age I never had a playdate and the first thing they said was, "did no one like you?" I had to explain that their grandmother made me leave the house and I had to walk down the street to my friend's house and see if he was there, if he wasn't I'd go to the next house and the next, and if no one was home, I'd go hang out at the park. For a number of reasons, we don't afford our kids that freedom any more.
This is a lot of it. The other day, I had a meeting in downtown Portland and thought it would be cool to bring my 12 and 10 yo with me. So, I bought them a couple of ice creams and let them play in the park while I went to the meeting. It was 45 minutes. And I was terrified about what might happen. Why? I have no idea. It's the safest city I can imagine and the kids are smart rule followers. But I still felt like an awful parent just for leaving them with no adult supervision for 45 minutes.

And I was raised the same way you were - I'd ride my bike four miles into town when I was 13 - along 50 mph roads with barely any shoulder. No one thought twice about it. I'd never let my kids do that now. I really don't know what's changed so profoundly.
 

ronlt40

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 14, 2005
1,196
This thread makes me sad.
Absolutely. A majority if my childhood was spent playing pickup baseball. There were 8-10 kids around my age that played everyday during the summer in an empty lot in our neighborhood. My father even built a backstop so we'd stop losing baseballs in the bush that was behind our make shift homeplate.
 

Lose Remerswaal

Leaves after the 8th inning. Brings the noise.
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Don't know that game but in the late 60's we invented a game called Tartabull, based on him throwing Ken Berry (a fast man) out at the plate. Good game for 3 or 4 kids. If we had seven or more kids, we played baseball with various rules, like RF foul, imaginary runners, pitch and catch for yourself, etc.
 
Last edited:

John Marzano Olympic Hero

has fancy plans, and pants to match
Dope
Apr 12, 2001
20,399
Rereading this column, I'm struck with one thing: I hate these types of pieces. These types of sepia-toned, everything-was-better-in-my-day (especially if the author grew up in the hallowed 1950s or 60s), nostalgia-fueled, kids-today-are-lazy-assholes, masturbatory screeds to days when these writers didn't have to worry about their mortgage or car payments. Does it suck that kids don't play pick-up baseball any more? I don't know. It doesn't suck for me, I'm working. I don't think it sucks for today's kids, if they wanted to play, they'd play.

It sucks for the Stan Grossfields of the world who seem to wish that time stopped in 1970 and he could call up Wally and the Beav and they all could run down to Metzger's Field and see if Eddie and Lumpy could find a few more guys to throw the ball around. Part of getting older is realizing that the generation coming up behind you doesn't give a shit what you used to do for fun. That's what younger generations do. They make their own fun and in 50 years, when they're the bitter husks looking for something to write about on a boring July day, I'm sure they'll take 20 minutes and type out the same dreck that Grossfield did.

But it will be about something else, because it's always something else.

And seriously, Wiffle Ball is the same thing as baseball. Just like stickball was back in the 50s. Except that Wiffleball takes less people to play and it's a lot more exciting. You don't need to be Chris Sale to have nice fastball in Wiffle Ball or be Mookie Betts to hit the ball a mile. The people who complain about no one playing or watching or enjoying baseball like they did, are really the ones that are killing the game. You write it enough or you say it enough, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today, baseball is fine. Kids like baseball fine. Maybe they don't love it the way that you did when you were 12, but that's okay. What you felt wasn't wrong and you don't need this generation's abject endorsement of the game to prove that you were right. Baseball will always be here.
 
Last edited:

Preacher

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jun 9, 2006
1,812
Vicenza, Italy
If we didn`t have enough players for a pickup game we`d play 500. Anyone remember that game?
Sure. The thrower call the points out when the ball is in the air. Whoever catches it gets the points. First to 500 wins. You could play it with a baseball or a football. I think we even occasionally used a tennis ball.
 

The Allented Mr Ripley

holden
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Oct 2, 2003
11,761
South Shore, MA
I grew up in the late '70s through the '80s, my friends and I were baseball crazy, but we never played pickup baseball, nobody did. It just wasn't a thing. Sometimes we played pickle or 500, but mostly we played wiffle ball instead, dawn 'til dusk. Played a lot of touch football and street hockey, too.

I have three kids now, ages 15 - 11, and not one of them ever went outside to play with friends of their own accord. My youngest is sports-crazy, he'll play anything, but a parent needs to broker every gathering with his equally sports-mad friends, and worse yet, they always want a grownup as designated pitcher or automatic QB. WTF is wrong with you kids? I feel like an asshole telling my son no, I genuinely enjoy playing sports with him, but if a group of 5th graders can't entertain themselves playing wiffle ball or nerf football without a grownup, they're fucking stunted. So I'm going to un-stunt you.
 

brs3

sings praises of pinstripes
SoSH Member
May 20, 2008
4,746
Jackson Heights, NYC
I'm 38, grew up in Malden, and didn't play pickup baseball. I recall tossing a ball against a wall in a school parking lot by myself and getting booted by older kids who'd show up, but they were organized in the sense they'd show up with 10-15 kids. There weren't any organic pickup games in the neighborhood. I was 4-5 years younger, so it wasn't sensible to be asked to play with the group. Based on the discussion in the thread, maybe pickup games died in the 70's. It just wasn't a thing for me in the 80's and 90's. Pickup basketball was more likely. When I was 16-20, my friends and I organized games in an unused field that we knew the lights would be left on(park behind the Target on route 1. Love that field). We'd play automatic softball with ghost runners, no walks. Plenty of fights over hits. You guys are denying reality if you didn't have fights over hits.ghost runners, automatic doubles, etc. For every group of friends that played baseball in an unofficial capacity, you had at least 2 friends who were dicks about everything.

I think a lot of this is anecdotal. How many fields are people looking at? What time are they empty? I'm sure kids are organizing games, but they might be at night, or weekend mornings. I remember playing at all hours of the day, depending on what worked for people. Maybe it's overall less, but I'm not convinced entirely.
 

lexrageorge

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 31, 2007
8,240
Pickup softball, and sometimes baseball, was definitely a thing in my neighborhood growing up. A lot of it had to do with the nature of the neighborhood; a large cohort that was often free every afternoon after school during the nicer days of fall and spring. The games happened less in the middle of the summer due to vacations and the like, but still happened. And, yes, I remember the ghost runners well.

One problem I did see with my kids is that the "need to be in the top 1% of something or your a failure" mentality pretty much encompassed youth baseball. There was nothing "pickup" about it, and while the league was technically open sign up, kids who didn't "meet the cut", or weren't the coaches kid, were basically strongly discouraged from signing up for another season. So most kids who aren't on high school varsity baseball team basically grew up without playing any sort of organized baseball.
 

YTF

Well-Known Member
Silver Supporter
SoSH Member
I played a lot of backyard wiffleball and catch as a kid but I honestly don't ever remember once playing pickup baseball.

On the other hand, I played a lot of pickup basketball at different playgrounds and gyms around town. All the article's claims about helicopter parents not letting kids out of their sight and travel teams dominating everything should be relevant for basketball as well. Yet they aren't.
Probably not relevant for hoops because it's just easier. You can play pickup basketball with as few as two or four people a ball and a hoop. Takes little to no organization and games can go to just 21 points. Think about it, with just six players three two man teams can rotate in and out playing the winner of the previous game.
 
Last edited:

Red(s)HawksFan

Member
SoSH Member
Jan 23, 2009
11,200
Maine
You can play pickup basketball with as few as two or four people.
My best friend and I would play in the driveway, sometimes 1 on 1, but more often just goofing around practicing set plays and alley-oops (had to love rims with adjustable heights). Once in a while we'd head to the closest city park with a court envisioning finding a couple other guys to challenge to a game. We'd seen White Men Can't Jump one too many times and pictured ourselves running the court like Snipes and Harrelson. Rarely did we ever actually find a game to play since this was north central MA, not greater Los Angeles. In the long run, I think we ended up playing more 2 on 2 in the driveway when we could rope a couple friends (or our dads) into playing. The other neighborhood kids preferred football or soccer...or Nintendo.
 

keninten

lurker
Nov 24, 2005
546
Tennessee
Sure. The thrower call the points out when the ball is in the air. Whoever catches it gets the points. First to 500 wins. You could play it with a baseball or a football. I think we even occasionally used a tennis ball.
The way we played it was 100 points for a ball caught in the air or 50 points for a ball still moving on the ground.
 

Bowhemian

Member
SoSH Member
Nov 10, 2015
2,517
Bow, NH
When I was a kid, it was pick-up wiffleball or football. Baseball was too difficult unless you had a large group of kids, which we didn’t have. When it was just me and my bestie, we would just play wiffleball just the 2 of us. We made up our own rules, and had a blast. That is a memory that I will never forget.
When my youngest (now 23) was younger, him and a few other neighborhood kids would play wiffleball pretty much every day out in the yard. I absolutely loved seeing them all out there having a great time. That was 10 years ago. Now when I look around at the kids in my neighborhood, I don’t even see any of them hanging around together. One factor in that is that a vast majority of the kids are quite a bit younger.
 

Ramon AC

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 19, 2002
2,596
What?
I saw a bunch of kids playing baseball without adults just last night, at the little league field adjacent to the ballpark where an organized college summer league game was going on.

Baseball is not dead yet, this is an evergreen column topic our great grandchildren will have to suffer through 100 years from now.
 

ngruz25

Bibby
SoSH Member
Sep 20, 2005
13,509
Pittsburgh, PA
I played some pickup baseball in the 90's and early 2000's, but it wasn't exactly common growing up. Street hockey and wiffleball was way more prevalent. When I was high school age, we started playing "home run derby" at one of the local Little League fields, which was a ton of fun.

One problem is that there aren't exactly a lot of fields to play at. Most places we knew kept their facilities locked or otherwise were inaccessible to random kids off the street ("No trespassing" signs everywhere). Probably for liability reasons or something.
 

OurF'ingCity

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 22, 2016
3,610
New York City
I saw a bunch of kids playing baseball without adults just last night, at the little league field adjacent to the ballpark where an organized college summer league game was going on.

Baseball is not dead yet, this is an evergreen column topic our great grandchildren will have to suffer through 100 years from now.
To further the counter-narrative, I live in NYC (Manhattan) near a bunch of parks of varying sizes and there are seemingly always kids playing sports (including baseball/softball/wiffleball) in small groups during the summer months. It's a wide range from parents practicing with their kids, to seemingly truly "pick-up" games with just a bunch of kids (with at least some parents/nannies usually supervising from a distance, tbf), to slightly older kids playing quasi-organized games (weekly soccer game, etc.).

To be sure, NYC is FAR from representative of anything in broader America, but, on the other hand, one might think that kids living in highly urban areas would be the most likely to give up sports and stay in or do other activities (in part due to concerned parents) but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Edit: and despite growing up in the Massachusetts suburbs on a very quiet street, we never really played pickup baseball that much that I can recall. Much more common was pickup football, with some soccer and street hockey mixed in. But I think even more common than that was more unstructured games like tag, manhunt or whatever other games we invented that just involved a lot of running around and chasing.
 

DJnVa

Dorito Dawg
SoSH Member
Dec 16, 2010
38,200
Played it a shit ton growing up in New England---sometimes with as few as 3 other kids. Ghost runners and pitchers hand (ball back to pitcher before hitter gets to first is an out) and we'd close half the field.

Even through college when I mad moved south we'd head to little league field in the offseason and play HR derby and the like.

Of course we'd also play football (or variations--like you run til you get tackled, then throw ball back over your head, where someone else would catch and try to score, etc.) or basketball all the time. We even had neighborhood Olympics, keeping track off who won how many medals and what our neighborhood records were.

The days would end with huge games of hide and seek--dozen plus kids playing throughout the entire neighborhood.

Never see any of that these days.
 

Just a bit outside

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 6, 2011
3,680
Monument, CO
Growing up in late 70s and 80s I also played a ton of pickup baseball, wiffleball, basketball, and football. We would play wiffleball with 2 people and a game we called “Automatics” once we got 3 people. 2 people would play against each other with the 3rd as the designated catcher. You would pick a team and then bat the lineup. The Sox were great because they had a ton of unique batting stances that we tried to emulate. Remy, Rooster, Lynn, Rice, Yaz, Fisk, Evans, Boomer, and Hobson all had intricacies that we worked on. Play 3 innings and then switch. We kept records and stats and everything. I still remember the woodpile being a single between short and third.
 

DeJesus Built My Hotrod

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Dec 24, 2002
30,452
There are so many factors at work but as someone who played some pickup baseball as a kid and then went on to coach my own and later other kids in both travel and Little League, I believe that, as with the pro game, the number of things competing for kids attention is the main driver here. Its not just showing up in the lack of pick-up games but also in the organized leagues. From what I can tell, baseball is long and boring for our population's apparent shrinking attention spans - as a result our local Little League is seeing declining sign-ups every year though some of that is due to the Giants poor play over the past few years (it will be interesting to see if the numbers bounce if they make the playoffs this fall and do anything).

Also as JMOH notes, parenting has changed and its rare to find parents of kids of certain arbitrary ages who are completely comfortable with them playing somewhere away from home unsupervised. Furthermore, when my kid participated in "lightly" supervised pick-up baseball games, the parents around often interceded if there were disputes or perceived unfair play. The net effect is that unlike my youth (shakes fist at cloud), some kids are reliant on parents to not just organize but also officiate even casual competition. Absent that, they aren't as inclined to go outside and play when they have videogames and seemingly endless content on their phones to watch.

I am with JMOH and others though - baseball will never full die, some kids will play and life will go on. Things may or may not be better over time but the times are always a changing...
 

h8mfy

lurker
Jul 15, 2005
267
Another 70s child who played all the variations of pickup baseball mentioned above (half-field, ghost runners, pitchers' mound poison) regularly growing up in suburban NJ. We all knew on early-out Thursdays in the spring to head to the field. Sometimes we organized teams to play against other neighborhoods, etc.

When we finally got to organized baseball (not until 5th grade in my town, and not affiliated with Little League) the fun was playing a "real game" with bases, lines, umps, and 9 fielders, etc. but I remember clearly leaving the sandlot because I had a league game to get to. Once it was too cold for baseball, we did the same for football, basketball and street hockey. My son occasionally played pickup sports, but it was not until his early teens, when they started (much later than for me) having a little freedom to roam.

Following on DeJesus' point, what is most troubling to me about this trend is that whatever the sport, always-supervised kids are not learning how to arbitrate among themselves, deal with kids you maybe didn't like as much (because you needed more players) and adapt rules to the conditions. These are useful skills for later in life and I'm not sure how else gain them these days.

Just don't play on my lawn /old man rant
 

SydneySox

A dash of cool to add the heat
SoSH Member
Sep 19, 2005
15,047
The Eastern Suburbs
We played baseball every day in summer in Framingham out the back on the vacant, football field sized empty lot - 3 or 4 of us, just pitcher, hitter against a fence with a strike zone painted on it, and some outfielders. We played with tennis balls and our own weighted, taped and modified wiffle bats. In winter we played football. One of the most exciting memories of that time was the day a family of visiting kids in the house on the other side of the lot... who I actually think owned the land and never, ever stopped us playing there... came out and challenged us to a friendly football game, which we might have won.

We also played Nintendo for hours every day between games.

My kid plays pickup cricket every afternoon when there's sun. We live in Australia, but he also has a glove and they've tried some baseball; it's just not as conducive here we live in the city. You can keep cricket shots on the ground - in fact, you should, we teach them hitting in the air is getting yourself out despite what they see on tv in the Big Bash 20/20 league - but you can't really keep a tennis ball of a baseball down, not if you're hitting it sweet. But they've tried. The other kids don't know how to play but mechanically it's the same, throw/catch/hit.

They also play Switch for an hour or so each weekend day between games.

It's not cultural. Kids play games and sport if they want. These sorts of nostalgia pieces are the enemy. Every generation thinks they're special. Rose coloured glasses let them view their memories in biased ways, and selective older outrage confirms bias that the kids these days are letting everything go to hell.
 

Cumberland Blues

Dope
Dope
Sep 9, 2001
4,809
I played pick-up everything as a kid...baseball, wiffleball, football, basketball, street hockey during the day....kick the can or manhunt at night.

I live in a very rural area now - kids just don't live close enough to each other to get a pick-up game of anything going. But when somebody has a cookout and invites a bunch of families over - the kids always start a game of something - wiffleball, baseball, football, soccer, basketball. I doubt there'd be more pick-up games if we all lived closer together for all the reasons JMOH and others have pointed out....but kids still like to play, and will play whenever given the chance.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 26, 2005
17,429
We played with tennis balls and our own weighted, taped and modified wiffle bats.
I think you've hit on one big thing that kids miss being in all of these organized sports - making do with what's available or making your own equipment. I polayed everything as a kid but a lot of times when we didn't have enough kids, we'd play stickball and the biggest part of it was finding the perfect stick - light enough to generate bat speed but thick and straight enough to really bash the ball.

Organized sports also means organized equipment. And because teams need these kids to sign up to make money, the team gear requirements are outrageous. It's a whole new ballgame out there. Sigh.
 

SydneySox

A dash of cool to add the heat
SoSH Member
Sep 19, 2005
15,047
The Eastern Suburbs
Hey, I played organised baseball then too and had all the 'right' gear. It was just that we also loved personalising our bats. You saw the end off the bat, get wet paper towels and stuff them in to weight them, then dry ones to pack it all, then tape it all up.

My kid and his mates modify their plastic cricket bats too - their good wooden ones are not to be used on the concrete backyard pitches.

I honestly resist any suggestion it is basically different.
 

Preacher

Well-Known Member
Gold Supporter
SoSH Member
Jun 9, 2006
1,812
Vicenza, Italy
Hey, I played organised baseball then too and had all the 'right' gear. It was just that we also loved personalising our bats. You saw the end off the bat, get wet paper towels and stuff them in to weight them, then dry ones to pack it all, then tape it all up.

My kid and his mates modify their plastic cricket bats too - their good wooden ones are not to be used on the concrete backyard pitches.

I honestly resist any suggestion it is basically different.
That’s interesting. We did the pretty much same thing with wiffle ball bats when using a tennis ball to play. Cut the end off the bat, stuff with wadded up newspaper, wrap duct tape around the top and down through the sweet spot of the bat.