One of my boyhood friends from our old South St. Louis neighborhood sent this link, bringing back many fond memories of baseball’s impending return.
St. Louis has long been recognized as one of, if not the best baseball city in America. Not because the Redbirds have won 10 World Series titles, second only to the 27 won by the mighty N.Y. Yankees. Nor because the Redbird fans are knowledgeable, and root, root, root for the home team in good times as well as bad. No, St. Louis gained its reputation over many decades as the quintessential baseball town because its fans appreciated the game at a level that allowed them to cheer even for the good plays by the opposing teams, or former Cardinals now returned in a visiting team’s uniform.
As a result, we St. Louis kids grew up playing many variations on the ball-and-bat theme from early spring to late in October. While I’m sure other cities had their distinctive baseball-influenced games, too, we seemed to have a game for any field of play and for every number of players available. Games with such evocative names as stepball, stickball, fuzzbull, wall-ball, wiffle ball, Indian Ball, cork ball, run ups, rounders; the list seemed to go on forever.
If you were on your own, you’d play step ball or wall-ball. Two kids would, of course, play catch. With three you could play run-ups, simulating getting picked off first and trying to not get tagged out.
Once you rounded up three or four friends you could start batting games like wiffle ball, cork ball, fuzz ball (played with a de-frocked tennis ball), as well as a fielding game that originated in St. Louis called Indian Ball.
Indian ball was played by two teams in an open field or playground. Two bases – Indians – would be laid out about 2o yards apart and approximately 60 feet out from a home plate. This created a pie-shaped wedge extending out from home into the outfield.
One team would field an infielder between the bases and an outfielder in the distance. The opposing team would hit from about 60 feet in front of the infielder. The pitcher would lob the ball to his team mate who had to fit the ball between the two bases, trying to place it away from the infielder and in front of or over the head of the outfielder.
A ball that got by the infielder was a single. Anything over the outfielder’s head was a home run. But if the infielder fielded a grounder cleanly, you were out. If the outfielder caught a ball on the fly you were out. If the infielder or outfielder muffed the play, that’d be a hit, too. But if you hit the ball outside the boundary of the bases twice, you’d be out. There was no base-running. Runs were scored by the accumulation of singles, homers, etc.
We’d play double innings, and through the course of a game we would really learn how to field, anticipate direction of the ball, and also how to hit to a spot away from a fielder, all which made us much better ballplayers during the actual baseball season.
We’d play for hours on those long, salubrious St. Louis summer days, then fall asleep listening to Harry Carey and Jack Buck call the Cardinals games on KMOX radio. Yep, before he moved to Chicago, Harry Carey spent 25 years calling Cardinals games.
I moved to Boston after college, and with Fenway Park and the Red Sox, I was blessed to land in another of America’s great baseball towns. But it was purely a Red Sox town, deep to its core. That’s what “The Curse” had wrought. Boston fans disliked other teams, and hated the effin’ Yankees.
St. Louis, on the other hand, because it had won through almost every decade, maintained its distinctive Midwest courtesy and generosity, even in the face of competitive fire. Cubs fans could rile us, though.