Author Floyd Sullivan’s submission to Baseballisms.com reprinted with permission. Floyd is the author of the new book Waiting for the Cubs: The 2008 Season, the Hundred-Year Slump and One Fan’s Lifelong Vigil. Look for a podcast with Floyd coming soon!
Note: I was directed to a blog called The On Deck Circle, written by Bill Miller. The subject of the blog that day was childhood memories, and the story of a little boy hitting his first home run. It brought the following back to me as clearly as if it happened yesterday.
The long, narrow, vacant lot across the street lay as an open invitation, almost begging the neighborhood kids to transform it into a crude playground, or perhaps a ballpark. The big boys on our block in Riverdale, Illinois, saw its potential and created a Wiffle ball field. They made rules so you could play with as few as two on a team. If you hit the ball past the fielder, it was a single. Past a particular bush, a double. Past the apple tree, a triple. And into the high grass way out there, halfway to the alley, a home run. There were no bases. You had to remember where your men-on-base stood on the non-existent diamond.
I was too little to play, but I loved to watch the big boys pitch and swing the bat.
One day, the guys must have been short a player because the older kid who lived almost at the end of the block asked if I wanted to be on his team. Thrilled, I jumped up and took the field. When it came time for our side to bat, he handed me the thin, wooden Wiffle ball bat with fraying black friction tape wrapped around its handle. I stepped up to the “plate,” just a dirt smudge where no grass grew. All I wanted to do was make contact. There was no way I could hit the triple area, let alone the tall grass for a homer.
The pitcher wound up and threw. The pierced plastic ball picked up the air currents and danced its way toward me like a knuckler. I swung and missed. The next pitch came in a little straighter, so I let up on my swing and felt the clean, full, satisfying vibration of a solid hit. But I had gotten ahead of the ball and pulled it left and foul. It flew over a chain link fence at the corner of a neighbor’s yard. I was relieved. If I had hit it straight it would have been a routine fly ball out.
All of sudden my teammate started screaming and patting me on the back. “Way to go! Way to go!” Even the pitcher and his fielder had to jog to the plate and congratulate me.
“What’d I do?” I asked.
“You got yourself a homer!” said my teammate.
I didn’t know it, but the boys had declared that corner of the fence the “short shelf” of their field. You had to land the ball just right, and I, without realizing it, had done it.
“Perfectly placed,” said the older kid from the end of the block. “Nobody’s ever hit one there before!”
My first home run, and to this day, over a half century later, the only one I remember.
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