“We weren’t really alone, of course. Each square mile of farmland, bordered on all sides by those perfectly straight Iowa roads, was called a section. In those days, most sections held four family-owned farms….there were 17 children in our section, so we had our own baseball game. Even if only four kids showed up, we played baseball. I can’t remember thinking about any other game. I was small, but by the time I was 12, I could hit a baseball across the ditch and into the corn. Every night we huddled around the Jipson family table and gave thanks to God that we’d gone another day without losing our baseball in the corn.”
— Vicki (Jipson) Myron, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
As the snow continues to accumulate and blow across our frozen farm, I am finding myself longing for sunshine and warm weather and green grass under bare feet. By the first of February every year for as long as I can remember, I find myself itching for spring days and the thrill of a new baseball season.
As a kid, there were always cousins and friends to make up teams on the first decent day to come along. Until that day came, I remember lying on my bed with a ball and glove, tossing that well-worn baseball toward the ceiling over and over.
My cousin Joel had the most amazing baseball card collection, and if I was lucky enough to go to his house on snowed-in days, we would go through his cards for hours on end. He would tell great stories of his favorite players, explaining why certain cards were worth more to him than others. Those cards didn’t hold much fascination for me. I just enjoyed talking baseball.
Playing ball in the snow
We knew we were absolutely forbidden to play baseball in the house, so we would bundle up in all of winter’s required layers, including gloves under the baseball gloves, and go out in the snow to play some pitch and catch.
Joel, my big cousin, would lecture me about not losing the baseball in the snow. The lecture always ended up making me so nervous I would miss a throw and doom us to digging for it.
Joel’s prized possession was a baseball he had caught at a Cleveland Indians game. He would let me look at it, but his sister and I were forbidden to even so much as touch it. The only time I ever saw my cool-headed cousin really angry was when he came home to find that baseball missing. Even though I had nothing to do with the missing treasure, I worried for whoever had been foolish enough to take it.
That was one long, agonizing day. Hours went by in which we were interrogated, then left alone in utter silence. It was painful to witness Joel’s agony. We had no idea what to say to him as the search for the ball went on and on with no luck.
Finally, his older brother Steve returned home from a friend’s house. He had the baseball and laughed like only older siblings can laugh when he realized the discord this had caused. We were young and powerless against him and he knew it.
One game we would often play when there weren’t enough kids to round up a full-fledged baseball game was a sport we named Indian ball.
There was a pitcher and a hitter and a few fielders. If an outfielder caught the hit, it was an out and the person who caught it now was up to bat. If no one caught the hit, the batter was to lay the bat down and whoever had fielded it either threw or rolled the ball in, trying to get the ball to hit the bat. If the ball made contact with the bat, that fielder was now up to bat.
Once again, the older, bigger kids had the advantage, and a powerful hitter might be at bat for a very long stretch of time. But, at least we were playing baseball, or the next best thing to it!