I, like many youths in this great land of ours, spent my summers off school playing baseball. I grew up on a cul-de-sac in Lockport, Illinois with 5 houses on it. My family lived in the first home on the right as you drove in. Counter-clockwise, Erik 2 years my minor (in my brother's class) lived next door. Next door to him a brother-sister combo resided. Andie was a year older than me/ Kevin a year younger....only toddlers lived next door to them and rounding it out was a pair of senior citizens that bought the final lot (left field) and had a manufactured home brought in 2 pieces and assembled on it....we were amazed watching this unfold. To their immediate west (technically on another street) lived Nick W. He, also a year my senior, was a significant slugger. He was a red-head, so pale he wouldn't wear jeans in the summer. He moved to Texas at a perfect age...my lasting images of him are slugging homeruns and being the king of the 'league'.
The 4 boys made an annual tradition of two on two baseball with Andie in and out of action as her girlie schedule would allow....in later years, she was almost non-existent in the Jo Ann Court League.
Teams were pretty much set before the rooster crowed, not that we had any roosters around...or alarm clocks for that matter. Gametime wouldn't typically be before 10:00 am......but wouldn't end until after dark; with obvious bike ride, bathroom and nourishment breaks.
Jo Ann Court. Lockport, IL
Teams were almost exclusively me and Erik versus my brother (Nick ) and Kevin. Erik was the only southpaw of us and it made for a ridiculous amount of running for the outfielder in opposition. He was a good sport and did his best to hit opposite field (the field, as you'll later read pretty much dictated that). I'm assuming this training partially helped in his making the team and breaking multiple pitching records at Illinois Wesleyan University many years later.
Smack-dab in the middle of the court was a manhole; the ideal location for a pitchers mound. As one would imagine, a circular field does anything but lend itself to a great/ to-scale infield. As a kid, you do the next best thing and use landmarks. The curb, south of the pitchers mound was home plate....luckily a goof in construction left two easily visible lines in the curb which became ideal for pitchers trying to paint the corner. (If you look at the court as a clock....home is at 6). 1st base, for lack of an alternative, was on the sidewalk in front of Kevin and Andie's house (think 2:00) and 2nd base a fencepost at roughly 12. With the entrance to the cul-de-sac where thrid base would be....we were left without a plan. In our genius, instead of importing a base, we made it the corner light pole (roughly 8:00). Since a decent pull hitter from the right could virtually bunt a ball down the road and crawl to a homerun- a bush just beyond the tail-end of the left-field driveway became the official fair/foul line.
Due to property concerns, the game was played with a tennis ball rather than a hard ball. We also went back and forth from wooden to aluminum bat (I've always been a bit of a purist so I relied mostly on a lightweight Louisville Slugger for bat-speed). Roof shots across the street were homeruns, though for a while, clearing the house was the REAL thrillin batting while attempting to rob dingers was about the only defense played. We had to use a "pitcher's outs" style of play (where the ball is thrown back to the pitcher rather than first base) and balls and strikes were called on a modified honor system.... which featured little honor. The guy (or girl) playing deep left was just as likely to give an accurate report as the hitter. Innings had to be capped at 10 runs so everyone could bat plenty.We had no catcher most of the time (with the other guy usually on base) so the pitching was lob style (think batting practice).
There really isn't a hall of fame for a league that featured 6 regulars and probably no more than 20 others ever took an at-bat. But if ever one starts, I believeI'll be the first inducted. You see, it didn't take me long to eclipse Nic W.'s HR record. If you think Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds or Japan's Oh Sadaharu hit a ton of bombs- you should have seen me in my prime. I beat them all....COMBINED! Don't buy it?? Do the math.... roughly 90 days per summer, 2 games per day, a good 20 at-bats per game for a period of no less than 6 years.....low-side stimate of 1 HR per every 5 at-bats (toward the end, I would hit about 8 out of 10- narrowly missing the other two) puts me at a whopping 4,320-ish home runs! That's right folks, I've hit more home runs in my life than the top six MLB players on the all-time list COMBINED! Hold your applause............................
Finally, after a couple years of their parents letting Kevin and Erik play little league- ours let us play:
I go to "try outs" which were basically a cattle call where a bunch of creepy 30-somethings "check you out"....and I get a call that I'm going to play for Bob's Shell and "legendary" Lockport Boys Baseball manager, Ron Pesavento. Mr. P was in his 60s or so back then and was kind of a *** (this is a family blog). His star players were his grandkid and his best friends.....guess what I played? LEFT-OUT!
Didn't he know he was dealing with a first-ballot- hall of famer here? Long story short, I could neither adjust to the aluminum bats nor get over my paralyzing fear of getting hit by the fast pitches and totally . You get the gist.
I finished my one and only season with a great bench seat for a bad team, 17 at-bats and zero hits (and of course, homeruns). I did tally 3 RBI with 2 bases loaded walks and one hit-by pitch. I only put the ball in fair play one time: a ground out to third on the season's final day. I played good outfield- even robbed a local contractor's kid (and leaue MVP) of a homerun to center. One night, mid-season, I jumped on a fast ball and smoked it high into the night sky down the left field line, but alas it wasn't meant to be and cleared the fence foul...I felt like Carlton Fisk (though less animated) willing it fair. Time stopped and I could hear parents behind our home dugout, "He hit it! Crap, babe, he hit it!" Unfortunately, none were my parents......they were one field over watching my all-star brother. He, Erik and Kevin all made the all-star teams and I retired after one miserable season.....the greatest hitter to never really get a hit.