Sometimes there weren’t enough guys around to get up a game of baseball, so improvisation became the way to kill some time. We had other options when the lack of numbers indicated such need. There are five that I can recall . . .

Rock Ball – This can be played alone – baseball solitaire, if you will. One solid wood bat, a gravel driveway, and some open space are all you need. Step one: stand in the driveway, facing an open area of some sort – in my yard, it happened to be over our neighbor’s large garden. Step two – scan the driveway for pebbles. Those about the size of a thumbnail were about as small as you could go; those larger than a grape wouldn’t do, either. Step three – with bat in hand, take your batting stance, flip the desired pebble straight up into the air and swing as the pebble drops into the strike zone. A miss means you get to try again. A hit is a good thing as bat and pebble meet, sending the pebble arcing out over the open field. Sometimes the pebble would be of a shape that it would whistle or buzz at it flew off the bat. The game ended when the batter got tired of searching for pebbles.

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500 – One batter, a number of fielders. The fielders take their place at the various positions as the batter stands at home plate. The batter hits the ball to the fielders, who retrieve the ball, earning points based on the following: fly ball – 100, one bounce – 50, two bounce – 25. Anything else would be a dime. When a player gains 500 points, it becomes their turn to bat.

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Home Run Derby – This game, now quite the big deal during the all-star game time every summer, was something for just a few guys to play. A backyard and some sort of barrier is required, as is a bat and ball. Two players, a batter and pitcher, is enough. A third player makes a good outfielder. The batter stands at the designated area, facing the designated barrier. The pitcher throws the ball to the batter, who tries to hit the ball over that barrier. The fielder, if there is one, catches any ball that fails to clear the barrier, returning it to the pitcher. The batter remains at bat until he fails to clear the barrier three times – the other players rotate around as each gets a turn at bat. Our back yard was quite good; we had a good, clear shot at the side of our garage with plenty of room for the game.

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Whiffle Ball – It is fun to watch a plastic ball spin and curve in midair. It is also fun to watch it appear to slow down just before it gets to the batter, who swings so wild that he looks foolish. This is the fun of a whiffle ball set. A large white ball, plastic and hollow, weighing as much as maybe a hummingbird, and a big, fat plastic bat, just as hollow as the ball, are all you need. Gloves? Why? The ball won’t hurt – well, not that much. So, you take to the field as batters swing at whiffle balls. Sometimes they miss, sometimes they hit. When they hit, the ball could go into a screaming line drive, or it will zoom straight up and get tossed around in even the slightest breeze. Think of that sound of whiffle bat against whiffle ball – the word ‘solid’ will not work at all. There’s a thunk or a doof or some other sound, but that adds to the fun.

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That Game in the vacant lot next to Tom Larson’s house. It’s just like baseball, but there’s a bit of a secret to it. We played it in the vacant lot next to Tom Larson’s house. I was the manager of the high school baseball team, where we had a pitching machine that used rubber baseballs, allowing us to have batting practice inside. These balls would eventually get too soft to use for high school practice, so when they were discarded, I took them home with me, and we’d use them at the vacant lot. We used regular wooden bats, but these balls, because they were so mushy, didn’t go far at all. The balls often needed to be taped up some, so many of our ‘pitching machine’ balls were totally wrapped in electrician’s tape. To add to the fun, it was quite easy to get these balls to ‘knuckle’, making them dance and hard to hit, just like a real knuckleballer’s pitch would do.

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Baseball: the mother of innovation.

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