The hot, summer sun has a way of turning the soft infield dirt of a baseball diamond into the consistency of pottery. The natural clay cut into the lush, green grass of a well manicured field will harden if left unattended. Baseball players are raised to recognize the quality of a field; assess the dips, the pits and all of its imperfections. Despite the clean, 90-degree angles present at every baseball field, there lies something that can cause a well-executed play to go awry.
This Fourth of July weekend went without an event this area has grown accustom to seeing each year. An Old-Time baseball game featuring how the game was first played more than a century ago, complete with ungodly wool uniforms and no fielding gloves. Often times an announcer would present hometown heroes with comical stories, and equally funny jabs at opposing players visiting from out of town. A good time, rolled into a package that reminded people of what the world was once like.
Baseball, after all, was a poor man’s sport. It was played in vacant lots throughout the country by kids and working men alike. It was a fun and cheap way to pass the time (and a way for betting men to gamble, too). In its purest form, it’s a children’s game played in the setting of a green lawn under the watchful gaze of family, friends and community. Somewhere, ideas of how the game is played, who should be able to play it, and when, got convoluted by a litigation-happy world preoccupied by finger pointing and an inflated sense of entitlement. When kids do this, they pick up their ball and go home, only to come back out to play the next day. When adults do this, it has a larger impact with more lasting results.
It wasn’t long ago that one adult used to spend his summer afternoons on a baseball field with scores of neighborhood kids. Fifty kids lost in a monstrous game involving line-ups three times the size of a regulation game. So what if the rules of the game said only nine on the field? No one cared. They all played along with total disregard of who hit when, and who played where. The only absolute to those summer days was that each game started at noon. That same man would later be pushed out of a coaching position based on the letter of a loosely enforced rule. The summer games, gone. His impact on the neighborhood kids that loved him, gone. (He’d go on to win elsewhere.) Yet, another part of his legacy was attached to an organized summer baseball league. It, too, disappeared, remerged, and disappeared again just recently — something about the rules, again.
It’s early July and the Old Time baseball game is gone. The field remains in use and tended for at Bethlehem’s Elm Avenue Town Park. How it will stand up to the hot, summer sun will depend. If baseball teaches anyone anything is that it is a simple game. The surroundings in which it is played can be more difficult. Once you have a place to play, and the people around you who want to play, it goes along without much effort. But, neglect the environment, the soil hardens and the field becomes more difficult to play upon. Fail to rake it, water it, mow it — take care of it — you lose it. You’ll later find it’s nearly impossible to get it back to how it was.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.