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Boys in my backyard

Posted Tuesday, October 16, 2012, at 12:58 PM

Ricky Butterfield, back yard baseball star. (Contributed photo)
Guest Columnist

When my son's Stevie and Ricky were growing up we always had a yard full of boys playing baseball.

There was an empty lot in back of our house and my husband, Dick, and about 12 neighbor boys cleared the field, limed the base lines and used sacks filled with sand for the bases. As far as they were concerned they were playing on Wrigley Field. Those boys of summer taking the field were from 6 to 10 years old.

Every day right after breakfast they started coming, ready for another day of championship baseball.

Choosing teams and making sure everyone, regardless of how good they were or how little they were, got to play.

There was no manager or coach with a whistle around their necks. The boys knew the

rules of the game and played fair.

Ricky, one of the younger members of the team, who loved baseball from the day

he was born and carried baseball cards in the back pocket of his jeans, always got to play, but if he was OUT, he was OUT.

I told Stevie, "Give him a break, he's just a little boy."

"Mom, if he's going to play the game he has to play by the rules."

That was a lesson Ricky learned well, and as he grew older, he became an outstanding pitcher and ball player.

As I watched those boys from my kitchen window I thought, "They are learning the lessons of life: fair play, look out for your teammates. If they cry when they strike out, don't make fun of them, give them a pat on the behind. Ronnie, Bogey, Littlejohn, Barry, Bobby, Hefty, the list goes on and in my memories I can remember watching those boys play ball. And, if I had a nickel for every glass of Kool-Aid I made for them I could spend my winters in Bermuda.

Or, there was always a drink from the hose, or to squirt one of your buddies on a hot day just for fun.

Years later, those boys -- now grown men -- still tell stories of those long ago days as if it was yesterday.

Rick and I were remembering those days and when he was playing Little League, now a teenager. Another championship game and company had just arrived so I didn't get to go to that memorable game.

Rick pitched a no hitter and got a grand slam home run! I missed it, the only grand slam he ever got. I'll never get over missing that game.

Years later when Rick got married and some of those boys from my backyard came to his wedding. I was dancing with Barry, now over 6 feet tall. He told me, "When you all moved I sat on your front steps and cried. I didn't know how I was going to get along without you."

You just never know how much your caring can mean. I didn't think anything about it at the time. I just loved all those little guys, loved baking cookies for them, or Dick taking them to the batting cage before a big game and out for ice cream after.

Those years were fleeting and today, I no longer can hear their cheers, the "safe!" "out!" "was not!" But never did I see one of them pick up their mitt and say, "I'm going home!"

They stayed until the sun went down, but back the next day ready to play that all-star "game of the century." Wait, a minute I have to go make them another trophy...It was a tin can on a block of wood, sprayed gold.

We called it the Can Do Award.

Those boys in my backyard, in my memory I can still hear them.

"Batter up!"

"Play ball!"

Author's note: This column is dedicated to the memory of Barry.

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Various members of the community, current or past residents, occasionally submit essays recalling the people, places and events of the past. We'll post them here. Also, reminisces sometimes emerge in other web forums. This will be a place those conversations can continue.
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