August 30, 2014

Places I’ve Played

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Baseball in the barnyard

March 31, 2011

By Bill Skiff

Some say that in the spring a young man’s fancy turns to love…or is it baseball?!
The other day in the gym when I saw a little boy step into a batter’s box and try to hit a ball off the top of a stick I was reminded how I learned my version of baseball — it was in our barnyard.

Our diamond could be found in that delightful place between our house and the barn. It was somewhat boxed in by an assorted group of buildings; a horse barn, equipment sheds and an old schoolhouse. Except for twice a day when the cows came from, or went to, pasture, it was our diamond — our Centennial Field, our Fenway Park.

I learned many lessons there:  twice a day when the cows slowly strolled through, I came to understand the meaning of “field maintenance.” We made up our own ground rules: off the barn door was a double, above the milk house door, but below the hay fork window, was a triple, and off the barn roof was an automatic home run.

Our bases were not all even in distance but were located in the right places. First was down the line by the porch, second was in the middle of the cow trail, and third was by the horse’s hitching post. The distance to the pitcher’s mound depended on the strength of the particular pitcher’s arm. Home plate was positioned so a foul ball would have a difficult time going through the bathroom window. We broke it only twice – and, as luck would have it, both times it was occupied.

There was no discrimination in our barnyard games. We let anyone and anything play. We once had a dog named Teddy who roamed center field. I’ll admit he couldn’t hit very well, but could chase down a fly ball and carry it back to the pitcher’s mound faster than any of us kids.

We also never had any problem letting girls play. In fact, without girls there would have been no teams. Our standard teams were my brother Bob and I against my sister Carol and Teddy.

Playing against them was my first experience with the phrase, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog.” Boy were they a scrappy team, and tricky, too. I remember how my sister grinned whenever Teddy streaked over to her after chasing down a ball. He dropped that slippery, slimy, sphere at her feet. Her next pitch would dance all over the place.

We played about 80 games a summer and Bob and I usually won 55 percent of them. The only time the teams changed was when our cousin Skip came over. Then, it was Bob, me, and Skip against Carol and Teddy. This only improved our record to 60 percent.

I learned my hook slide on our barnyard diamond. I could slide into second base amidst the gravel and cow paddies and rarely raise a strawberry (see note). I had to perfect my slide because my sister could put a mean tag on you. Besides, if I did get a strawberry, Dad would come out and pour Sloan’s liniment or Merthiolate on it (boy, did that stuff sting). The label wasn’t kidding when it said Sloan’s liniment is good for man or beast. Dad would put it on my leg one minute and his horse’s the next.

We knew all the rules and didn’t need any adults to tell us when we were out or safe — we knew. Thus, our games passed many an afternoon with a strong sense of fail play.

Each year at this time I can smell our barnyard diamond. I long to put on Dad’s baseball shoes, the ones with the shiny cleats, and run around making three point marks in the spring earth. I listen for Teddy’s bark and the fierce language of my sister Carol on those rare occasions when I finally struck her out. Those barnyard games are gone, but their memories linger on. I wish more kids today could learn their baseball in a barnyard.

Note: Strawberry – A round , raw circle on your hip caused by sliding over gravel or sand.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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