There’s something very romantic about hearing a professional baseball player tell us that his first experience with the sport was playing sandlot baseball in his youth. It was a game that took some creativity on the part of those who wanted to play.
A sandlot is an abandoned tract of land in an urban setting on which kids gather for all kinds of purposes. If it’s going to be a baseball field, however, they have to find equipment, like a bat (a broom handle), bases (rocks or cardboard) and a ball, usually torn and tattered.
But no matter how makeshift the field was, it was here on the sandlot that throwing, catching, running, and an American form of martial arts was learned. By experience. In cities where Little League and Middle League were missing, sandlot baseball was a training ground which produced many fine MLB stars.
Sandlot ball, like schoolyard basketball, had its own rules and its own way of enforcing them. Scuffles were as common as singles or doubles. Stickball, a variation on baseball, in which a broom handle and a ball allowed a pick up game in the middle of a busy street in residential neighborhoods enjoyed skills such as avoiding car windows, playing in and out of traffic, and home runs when the ball went down a sewer. It, too, may have been the place of origin of an MLB player’s youth.
With the advent of city budgets for recreation sandlots were replaced by more formal baseball fields,and the rules and organization accompanying them. At this point in history the competition between cities, states, and even countries find their way to Williamsport, Pa. for the World Series of Little League baseball. But, while it is more organized and civilized, it misses the drama and romance of sandlot baseball.
As economic interests scoop up empty lots for development the tradition of pick up baseball disappears. So goes a tradition…except maybe in the poorer corners of cities where development and recreational budgets are unknown.
Photo from the movie “The Sandlot”