Do you remember playing neighborhood games with other kids when you were young? Our local favorite was baseball. There were four of us (Mike, Tom, Jeff and myself) who would meet in Mike & Tom’s backyard for a game almost everyday. Two people per team – one pitching and one playing outfield – with the non-batting opponent covering catching duties if able. The games would go on for hours until one of our mothers would put out a call to dinner. My mother had a “chuck wagon” style triangle in later years that she would ring to get me heading that way.
These games were an absolute blast … as long as there weren’t any fights. Ans there were fights: close calls at home, did he “tick” or was that strike three, foul or fair, etc. Whenever that happened everything came to a screeching halt. I was the youngest by a year compared to two of the boys. The third, Mike, was the oldest by yet another year over these two. Based on seniority we decided that Mike would become our player/umpire.
It didn’t take long before he had his hands full. You see, Jeff hit a long ball. He really got a hold of that thing, and we all strained our necks upward while turning toward the outfield to follow the ball’s flight. All of us (including Jeff) stared in awed silence as we considered what had just happened. I, as the dutiful outfielder, started running out to the orchard to retrieve the ball when the silence was broken by two distinct words being called out – “Foul Ball!”.
You see, Mike (who was also our pitcher) had moved behind home plate (a tree) and had lined up his line of sight with third base (also a tree), and could tell that the ball had drifted left of the imaginary line between these two points. He called “foul”, and returned to the pitcher’s “spot”. I reached the ball and threw it in to him. And then … well … the other team had something to say.
Jeff (the batter) immediately questioned Mike’s call based on the location of the ball at impact. His point was impossible to prove, because I had already thrown the ball in and all my attempts to spot where I picked it up from were called to question. From Jeff’s perspective however, his point was impossible to disprove, so he felt justified in being angry with both Mike and myself.
Tom (Jeff’s team mate) immediately questioned Mike’s character. You see – Tom and Mike were brothers, and suddenly everything that had ever been done (or was perceived to have been done) by this older brother against the younger was proof that Mike was unfit to make an unbiased call.
We had initially asked Mike to be our umpire so we could keep the game going. Now his audacity for actually performing his role and make a contrary call was cited by 50% of the players as reason for the game to come to a screeching halt.
To the best of memory it was Tom who broke the deadlock. Citing some other priority, and believing that his action would cause the game to end, Tom picked up his glove and walked into their house, leaving the three of us to decide what to do.
I think it probably took about thirty seconds for Mike to offer to pitch to both Jeff and I. Mike technically removed himself from both teams, making the game Jeff vsMe with Mike pitching. You see … we were only a few innings into it. The game had to be completed, and while we were crippled to a degree, we were determined to get the game in before the triangle rang.
The next day I arrived at game time to find Mike and Jeff standing behind Jeff’s place. Seems Tom wasn’t interested in playing baseball today. He had watched from his bedroom window the day before and was bitter because we had figured out how to play without him. Today he busied himself in their basement, ensuring he couldn’t see our game – yet would occasionally laugh loudly to make sure we knew he was having a fine time without us.
Eventually Tom did come back, and the summer baseball games resumed as they were intended to be played, each team with their own pitcher and outfielder.