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Doug Wolter: Traveling team baseball, 7-year-old style

I'm old enough now to wax poetically about how great it used to be in "the good ol' days." But I'm slowly figuring out that what worked in the 1960s doesn't necessarily work so well in the 20-teens. You may remember a sports column or two that I ...

I’m old enough now to wax poetically about how great it used to be in “the good ol’ days.”

But I’m slowly figuring out that what worked in the 1960s doesn’t necessarily work so well in the 20-teens.

You may remember a sports column or two that I wrote years ago, extolling the virtues of kids at play while I was growing up in Allendorf, Iowa. We made our own fun in those days, and in the summertime we organized our own games -- with no adults around to make the rules or enforce them.

Yeah, it was great to get the neighborhood kids together for baseball games at Vander Veens’ lot. We celebrated our own victories and fought our own battles. It was kind of like that Peanuts comic strip. There were no grown-ups to get under foot; just kids being kids.

These days, however, I don’t know anywhere where young people organize their own games any more. Perhaps I’m wrong, but do kids get together to play baseball these days without adults to organize the games? I have grandsons who are motivated enough to trade Pokemon cards with their friends, but to play ball they seem to need adults to make it happen.

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Yes, yes, I know times have changed. Baseball, in the summertimes of the Sixties, was the only game in town in Allendorf. We played ball all summer. In the fall, we played football. In the winter, we all met at the Molendorps’ driveway because they had the only basketball hoop under concrete.

We didn’t ask. We just showed up. Thankfully, they never shooed us away.

There was no such thing as soccer. That was for foreigners. And hockey? No way. We were Iowans.

It’s a good thing, generally, that kids have so many activities to choose from today. But it’s a bad thing, too, I think, because there are so many choices in the buffet that they don’t always choose baseball.

So we need grown-ups to organize the baseball games.

Two of my young grandsons, Jake (age 8) and Tyson (7), are playing live-pitching baseball this year. And it’s the kids themselves, not adults, doing the pitching.

Tonight the wife and I are planning to travel to Mankato to see Jake play. We saw Tyson, who hails from Lakefield, last week in a game against Fulda.

That’s right, 7-year-olds playing on traveling teams. It’s wild.

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Let me just say, there were a lot of walks in Tyson’s game. In T-ball, players always got to hit the ball. They never struck out. But they strike out now, if they don’t walk.

Sometimes they actually hit the ball into fair territory, which is exciting to see. In the Lakefield-Fulda game we watched, there were two -- maybe three -- instances where players hit the ball between the foul lines. I’d have thought the infielders would be ill prepared to handle such an occurrence, since it’s so rare, but they were ready. On one of the hits, the shortstop reminded me of a youthful Ozzie Smith.

I remember saying to myself that the pitchers stood too far away from home plate. Fortunately, the umpire recognized this, too, so he drew a line in the dirt two feet in front of the pitcher’s rubber for one of the hurlers, who proceeded from there.

The strike zone was wide and high. That was good, too, because at this level if the pitch is only in the vicinity of the plate, that’s close enough.

When we used to play in Allendorf, we could go on all day. In Fulda, the adults keep the games under an hour, no matter what the score. Innings can go on a while, so Tyson got up to the plate just once. He spent three innings in left field. Didn’t get a ball hit to him.

But we all had a good time. Tyson was smiling at the end, and that was good enough for us.

 

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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