The field of dreams where many a young summer day drifted away did not involve a magic cornfield in the middle of Iowa. Rather it was a small rectangle of grass flanked by apartments on one side and a busy street on the other.
This weekend, back in our hometown of Grand Forks, N.D., brought a chance visit to this humble plot of land where fierce baseball games took place -- the birthplace of the aptly named "Pitcher, Hitter, Catcher, Fielder." (Several minutes were spent trying to figure how to punctuate that title. It might not have ever been written -- only spoken).
The game involved four players. That's it. The hitter had three outs to score as many runs as possible. The pitcher, catcher and fielder tried to stop him. Ghost runners were definitely in play. The first baseman was a short tree. The second baseman was a shrub. Hit those marks with the ball before the runner, and he was out. After three outs, everyone rotated.
This was all done with tennis balls, and for good reason: A home run was a blast onto the top of some very short apartments in left field, or a shot to dead center that cleared the far sidewalk. Come to think of it, no left-handed hitters ever played. Good thing, too, because a pulled shot could have hit a car. Maybe that's why none of us ever became good opposite-field hitters?
There were no formal arrangements to play. There were certainly no text messages. It usually started when I showed up at the apartment of two brothers. The three of us would then start on a quest to find the elusive fourth. Sometimes it was a neighborhood kid across the street, whose over-lubricated glove was called The Oilcan.
Occasionally, we had to settle for just the three of us -- dropping the "Catcher" and putting the onus on the batter to chase every wayward pitch with his bat or later with his feet. Maybe that's why none of us developed good plate discipline.
As we recall, there were strikeouts but no walks -- modern OPS fanatics surely are shaking their heads in disgust. But get this: We kept stats and had scouting reports. The book on me was that I was a "Tony Gwynn type of hitter, a singles and doubles guy." Maybe so, but I still remember my first "upper-decker" -- a home run onto the slanted roof of those left field apartments.
Of course, that home run distance seems laughable now. Stalking the area this weekend, everything was impossibly small -- except for the trees, which were impossibly big. That can't be first base. It's huge! And the second base pine shrub ... they must have planted newer and bigger trees because that can't be it. You know, it's only been ... 25 years? Twenty-five years.
The ground is primarily snow-free, an oddity for this time of year in Grand Forks. The area where home plate was (usually a glove) seems worn down to the dirt. We were once pitchers, hitters, catchers and fielders, but we are all grown now. Are we the reason nothing grows there anymore?