The end of kids playing pickup baseball

John Marzano Olympic Hero

has fancy plans, and pants to match
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Apr 12, 2001
19,963
We must have learned how to do it from somewhere!
I learned it from Billy Hatcher. But instead of Super Balls we used to saw off the end of our Wiffle Ball bats and fill them with newspapers and pennies, then used electrical tape to make sure that they didn't go anywhere. We used pennies because we were rich as hell.
 

Mr Mulliner

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Jan 16, 2001
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My boys (6 and 8) are playing baseball on their own pretty much every day for a couple hours. if no one is around they play in the yard with ghost runners, and make up rules whenever someone joins. And yesterday had a neighborhood game going with 8+ kids (north shore Boston burbs).

It's different from the 80's because all the kids didn't just ride their bikes to an empty field, and a couple were on "play-dates", but there were no adults organizing or supervising the game. I'll admit, i thought the whole pick-up games thing was dead too, but I've been seeing it lately a lot in my town. Baseball, wiffle ball, basketball, football, some soccer... my boys were even playing 500 the other day.

I may have fist-pumped.
 

John Marzano Olympic Hero

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Apr 12, 2001
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The thing is, I think that we've all played Wiffle Ball and that's something that kids still play (because it's easy to get a game of Wiffle Ball up and running, and it's fun as fuck too), why isn't Wiffle Ball considered "pick up baseball" by the likes of Grossfield? I think that I know the answer, but "pick up" to me, means less-structured and easy. Like pick-up hoops is a different animal than what I played in high school. The pick up soccer that I play on Saturdays is different from the league that I play in on Wednesdays.

So Wiffle Ball is, and always has been, pick up baseball -- just with different equipment. But at its core, it's the same game. And isn't that the point?
 

BigJimEd

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Jan 4, 2002
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Grew up in 70s and 80s in a neighborhood with a couple dozen kids within a couple years of my age. Lots of wiffle ball, football and hoops. Only an occasional pickup baseball game.

Now live in suburbs a couple towns over from my hometown, my boys play plenty of wiffle ball and there's often a few kids shooting hoops on the street.
Whenever I go by the nearby school in summer, the basketball courts and street hockey rink are almost always being used by kids. Lots on the skateboard park as well.
Don't see baseball field being used unless there is an organized game. Soccer and football fields usually have just a couple kids throwing or kicking the ball around.
It's also a beach town so plenty of kids the playng different games including wiffle ball.
 

uncannymanny

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Jan 12, 2007
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Boston --> NYC --> LA --> NYC
When kids want to find their friends they go online, not to the park. Folks touched on it indirectly, but I think it’s not the sport that was ever important. It was the thing that brought you together without adults. Kids don’t need to go out of the house to do that anymore.

We played stickball against a brick wall for pickups mostly. Hits were decided on where they landed so you could play with as few as 2 people.
 

SydneySox

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Sep 19, 2005
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I learned it from Billy Hatcher. But instead of Super Balls we used to saw off the end of our Wiffle Ball bats and fill them with newspapers and pennies, then used electrical tape to make sure that they didn't go anywhere. We used pennies because we were rich as hell.
Pennies were out of our league. You were fancy. If we'd ever have played, your neighbourhood vs ours, you'd have been those fuckers pulling up in a bus with your logo on it.
 

John Marzano Olympic Hero

has fancy plans, and pants to match
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Apr 12, 2001
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Pennies were out of our league. You were fancy. If we'd ever have played, your neighbourhood vs ours, you'd have been those fuckers pulling up in a bus with your logo on it.
Sometimes I'd secretly stick a rock in the ball before I pitched. If you weren't ready for it, it could really do some magic and drop slowly. But if you were ready for it and timed it right, you could send that pitch to the moon. What I'm saying is that I was the Gaylord Perry of my neighborhood, but if you saw my illegal pitch once or twice, my cheating wasn't very effective.
 

Spacemans Bong

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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.
It's weird, because Lewisham and South London generally craps out talent like there's no tomorrow, so it's not due to a lack of interest in football. It's possibly due to teams running such large training schemes, starting at 9, that all the kids with talent are literally on a pitch training somewhere - seeing teenage kids in club tracksuits with boots around their neck or in a bag is a pretty regular feature in London. So perhaps it's because all the kids who would be playing footie on the lawn in front of the estate every day are off playing footie under the watchful eye of a coach.

The thing is, I think that we've all played Wiffle Ball and that's something that kids still play (because it's easy to get a game of Wiffle Ball up and running, and it's fun as fuck too), why isn't Wiffle Ball considered "pick up baseball" by the likes of Grossfield? I think that I know the answer, but "pick up" to me, means less-structured and easy. Like pick-up hoops is a different animal than what I played in high school. The pick up soccer that I play on Saturdays is different from the league that I play in on Wednesdays.

So Wiffle Ball is, and always has been, pick up baseball -- just with different equipment. But at its core, it's the same game. And isn't that the point?
With the portability (you can play it anywhere, because nobody gets worried it'll break a window or dent their car) and ability to do fun stuff like throw giant curveballs or splitters or killer screwballs, Grossfeld's editor should have at least asked him to justify why Wiffle doesn't count. If that doesn't count then football must be dying because nobody plays pick up tackle football anymore! They just touch each other with one or two hands!
 

dhappy42

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Oct 27, 2013
6,418
Michigan
Both parents working and summer camps. That’s why kids don’t play much pickup baseball anymore. Or even baseball games like pepper and pickle. When I coached kids a few years back, I was surprised that almost all of them didn’t even know what pepper and pickle were. We used to play pepper and pickle (and variants) during elementary school recess. And lots of kickball. The school my son attended has a rule prohibiting team sports at recess, I assume so no kids are picked last.
 

RGREELEY33

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Nov 28, 2005
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I feel like I have been saying this for almost 20 years. I'm 43, and I cannot remember the last time I drove by a baseball diamond with a "pick-up" game. I comment on it all the time -- and every time, it makes me sad. I vividly remember having my daughters at a park about 5 years ago, and there was a Dad pitching BP to about 5 kids -- they were probably 12-14 years old -- it was so nostalgic for me, we sat down under a shady tree and watched it for like 20 minutes. Just the sounds of the metal bats immediately took me back.

I was always the "organizer" for our pick-up games. I was relentless about getting 18 players -- would ride my bike around the neighborhoods banging on doors until we had enough players. My fantasy baseball/football team names is the "Relentless Bastards" as a result -- half of my buddies played because they didn't want to listen to me bitch and moan at them, which I would, until they agreed. We would have marathon sessions, playing all day until "supper" -- from ages 7/8 until probably 13/14 when it became more organized and settled into BP and practice type stuff with guys who were playing Babe Ruth or HS ball with us. We played a ton of "stickball" (tennis balls and cut-off hockey sticks with a strike zone box drawn on a brick wall usually) and wiffle ball as well.

They were the best days of my life.

I get all the reasons as to why it is gone and likely never coming back. I hope, at some point, it stops making me sad and starts making me grateful for having been lucky enough to have grown up like that. Although, when that happens, I'll officially know I'm old.
 

bankshot1

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Feb 12, 2003
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I think the working parents/summer camp explains a lot of it, along with on-line time, and what seemed to me to be much higher homework demands and scheduled activities. Kids have decreasing free time to be kids.

But like many here, I drive by a lot of empty baseball diamonds, and I remember a time when those fields had kids playing games.
 

dhappy42

Straw Man
Oct 27, 2013
6,418
Michigan
...They were the best days of my life.

I get all the reasons as to why it is gone and likely never coming back. I hope, at some point, it stops making me sad and starts making me grateful for having been lucky enough to have grown up like that. Although, when that happens, I'll officially know I'm old.
Ouch.
 

LoweTek

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May 30, 2005
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tldr;

Played pickup sports: baseball, football, street hockey, ice hockey, etc. almost daily after school and all day weekends and Summers from second grade through high school. Often biked or walked for miles to do it. Never any adult supervision.

There's a public park near me now with tennis courts, racquetball courts, a full basketball court, three baseball fields (one large enough for 90 foot bases) and a large open area used primarily for soccer and lacrosse. It's very well kept and in a very safe area. The pickup game I see there most often, almost every day, is basketball. Mostly teen aged kids and often a lot of them. I've seen full court games being played there where kids were on the bench and rotating in and out there were so many. Sometimes you'll see pickup soccer. More often it's kids practicing soccer without supervision. Once in a great while you see a baseball pickup game there but it's usually kids practicing with each other.

I think the reason kids have moved away from pickup sports is mostly (80%) due to parent fear (often unwarranted IMO) for kids safety. Kids just aren't allowed to go off on their own unsupervised and be gone all day. To a far lesser degree IMO it's due to sports specialization, poor and biased coaching in the recreational youth leagues and things like video games and social media. It's the modern parent's prerogative of course but I think kids do miss something from the lack of freedom and in person socializing.

/tldr;

I started playing pickup baseball almost daily during the Impossible Dream run. I lived in neighborhoods in Lowell, Chelmsford and Falmouth where there were a lot of kids around the same age. It seems like families had a lot more kids close together in age then. We played baseball with as few as three players or with three we'd just play pickle. There was never a 1B unless we had six or more on each team. Pitcher was almost always first base. Hit it to right field you were out (LF for an LHH). Normally no catcher either. The hitter just retrieved the ball from the backstop which was quite close to the plate. No walks. Ghost runners advanced the same number of bases as the hitter. They could be forced out if the fielder could get to the bag before the batter reached first. Double plays could happen with ghost runners.

For disputed calls, we worked it pretty much like a possession arrow in basketball. We named it the 'Call.' At the beginning of the game you flipped a coin for who would have the Call first and then go back and forth whenever it was used. When there was a disputed play the team with the Call could opt to have the final outcome in their favor. Once used then it was the other team's Call to use. Led to some interesting strategy to use or not use the Call when you had it. You could always yield the play to the other team and keep it for later in the game.

Once Roberts Field on Old Westford Rd. in Chelmsford was built, we played there almost everyday it wasn't raining from March to September. We played pickup tackle football there in the fall but usually played football in one of the yards. Played a lot of street hockey in the Fall and Winter too when it was possible. I can remember one summer we organized a pickup baseball league where 4-6 kids from one neighborhood would bike miles over to another neighborhood who also had a team and play a game. I played pickup baseball at one frequency or another all the way through high school.

In Chelmsford, I lived in a house with over an acre sized lot. When the house was built (on a corner lot) my father decided to purchase the lot next door as well. The house was set well back from the street and the driveway was flat, straight and quite long. It was two car width so it was a near perfect street hockey 'rink.' We built a couple of nets with 2x4s and fence wire and it was game on, Garth. Played street hockey through high school as well though it was far more intense as players got older. We'd play on this single tennis court and there was a lot of hard and often dirty hitting and hacking. High school street hockey was a bully's dream come true.

In the Chelmsford backyard behind the second lot was an area of near level grass maybe 125-150 feet square. We built a little league size baseball field there starting from the back left corner outward. It had woods behind the 2x4 and wire backstop, woods from the left field line to left center field and woods in roughly the same position in right field. Anything hit fair into the woods was a double. Left center to right center was wide open and led to the neighbor's backyard. This was the everyday field for pickup baseball until Roberts Field came along. We lost a ton of baseballs in the woods.

In the winter there were a lot of backyard rinks. The tough thing if they weren't nearby was getting to them with any amount of gear. Played a lot of pond hockey too, usually without any gear except a stick and a puck. The pond used to be crowded with kids everyday after school and on weekends. Played a lot of what Orr described in his biography as 'shinny.' Basically a huge area of ice set aside and you did a lot of skating and puck carrying playing keep away.

Had a friend who had a built-in pool in the backyard. It really wasn't used all that often in the Summer. It was fairly large, 20x40 as I recall and was all fenced in. In the Fall the pool was partially drained, maybe 12 inches or so and covered with a large black plastic tarp, maybe six mil thick, which covered the entire pool and extended probably six feet beyond the edges. Originally, small sandbags held the edges down. Most of the cover sat flat on the water surface. It would rain or snow and before long the top of the cover was flooded with water. One year we discovered it made a great little rink once the flooded cover froze. The pool area was lighted with floodlights so you could play well into the evening. The first year we played on it with just the sides of the cover protecting the edge of the pool. This did not go well. Pucks would just rip through the plastic and often could not be found until fished out of the bottom of the pool in late Spring.

So the Dad, a talented carpenter although it wasn't his trade, came up with an idea to build boards for the edges of the pool. He screwed together two 2x12 planks perpendicular to each other and then the resulting 'T' shaped piece of wood turned on its side became the edge boards and was also effective as protection for both the edges of the pool and the plastic cover. The T-boards were all connected at the breaks, every 8-12 feet I think, so it was a pretty solid structure all the way around the perimeter. The sand bags were no longer needed either. We'd the flood the top of the cover up to the bottom of the vertical part of the sideboard and wait for cold days. The interesting thing about this pool-rink was it froze to a usable thickness faster than any pond or regular backyard rink and it stayed frozen thick enough to use well into the Spring. In the Spring when the snow would melt we'd find 50 pucks lying all over the pool deck or in the yard over the fence having been previously lost for the Winter when they were shot into the snow banks shoveled off the ice surface.

That pool was used 20 times more in the Winter than in the Summer.

Good times.
 

PaSox

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Jul 14, 2005
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I grew up in Pawtucket before moving to Pennsylvania when I was 10 years old...Played pick up baseball anywhere we could find a place. One of the three diamonds at Slater Park, the field at the end of my street..Was always out there, could be two of us or 12 of us..When I first moved to Pennsylvania and made some friends still managed to put some decent games together.
Nowadays, what I see in the area that I live in is that the little league fields are locked. Only thing really available is a hitting cage and that gets boring when you have a group of more than say three or four...As far as getting on those fields with the exception of games the kids would have to hop the fence..And the league officials who take care of the fields always chase them off out of fear of damage to the field, something I do not agree with. Fortunately my 9 year old enjoys going down to the cage to take some cuts and will often ask if a few of his buddies can tag along...Plus I think that some parents are not comfortable in allowing their children to head to a field for an extended period of time by themselves.
I for one echo the sentiments of many on the board, it is sad to drive by a ballpark and see it empty.
 

drleather2001

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Jul 18, 2005
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Sometimes I'd secretly stick a rock in the ball before I pitched. If you weren't ready for it, it could really do some magic and drop slowly. But if you were ready for it and timed it right, you could send that pitch to the moon. What I'm saying is that I was the Gaylord Perry of my neighborhood, but if you saw my illegal pitch once or twice, my cheating wasn't very effective.
In my middle school, the bats were filled with all sorts of shit. Newspapers were the standard (and were necessary because, we we all know, tennis balls will dent the shit out of a plastic bat), but I once partially filled a bat with sand. A little heavy but you barely had to graze the ball to knock one out. Of course, our playground setup (inside a series of fenced-off tennis courts) was uniquely conducive to playing home run derby.