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Memories Of A Pathfinder

Part 7, Wiffleball Years (1958 - 1965) -- 07/20/09

We had just moved into the first house in June 1958. Brand new to the neighborhood, my brother Rusty and I sat on our curb and watched some boys playing baseball in the street. Actually they were playing Wiffleball on an improvised yet modified baseball diamond painted on the street in white, complete with batters box and bases. I was fascinated right away.

Rusty showed no interest, but I asked the boys if I could play with them. They already had many players on each team, but allowed me to play if I paid 10 cents. That fee was to contribute to the purchase of the wiffleball supply. I asked Rusty to lend me the dime and with that I was playing and making new friends right away.

Most of the boys were older than I, some much older. I don't remember all their names, but some were the Jandeska boys (Billy, Bob, and Gerry), the Anderson boys (Bruce, Barry, and Mark), Mike Kent, just to mention a few.

They had been playing for years right there on the street. The people who owned homes on both sides of the street would come out and sit in lawn chairs, watching us. From Spring to Fall, we would play out there, sometimes with only a few boys per side, sometimes a large group per team. It was so much fun.

On hot humid weekend nights, the game could last until quite late. I had to reluctantly go inside around 10 pm and continue watching from a window. Sometimes being too young was such a drag.

On the northwest corner of 83rd Place and Cregier Ave., there was large old tree near the fire hydrant. Its tall branches spread out above the playing field. Sometimes a fly ball would be hit into the branches and bounce around making it difficult to catch from the ground. Sometimes it would hang up in the branches causing a game delay while various attempts were made to loosen by throwing objects at it so it could fall. Those attempts weren't always successful. Hence the need to obtain a new wiffleball and purchase a replacement in the backup supply. Each time another 10 cents per player was collected.

Over the years, the older boys had summer jobs and could no longer play as often. I believe it was the summer of 1965 was the last big game when everyone played. Time was catching up with us, the teams were no longer so large, the audience less enthused by the changes as boys become men and move on to other matters in life.

Not long ago on my last trip to Chicago, I went by my old neighborhood. The houses are still the same. The big corner tree, gone for decades now. The baseball diamond long vanished, erased by the passage of time. The echos of boys shouting and expressing the emotion of baseball played on the small scale, exist now only in our memories.

At any moment I can project my memories and be back there, just like it was. No matter if I struck out, got a hit, caught a fly ball or made a close play, it was all great fun. Chicago was a wonderful place to grow up. I'm glad those boys in 1958 let me play. I still owe my brother Rusty that dime too.

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