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Sandlot Baseball – In 1958 (a poem)

May 5, 2010

There were two occasions at school during recess when we were banned from playing baseball down The Bank’n. One was after a good rain when the field turned to mud. Instead, we played kickball or dodge-ball on the small, asphalt playground behind the school. The drawback here was that, invariably, someone would kick or throw the balls up onto the school building’s roof bringing a quick halt to our games. There were times when we just ran out of balls. Playing hopscotch or jump-rope were the only alternatives. For the boys in our crowd, this wasn’t acceptable.

We’d sit on the black, fire escape stairs talking about TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Have Gun Will Travel. Ronnie C or Yarnie M would usually stir things up by scooping up worms from puddles and flinging them around. You had to watch out that one didn’t get caught inside your shirt.

The other scenario for which we had reason to be concerned about sandlot prohibition had to do with our grades. Low marks often led to parentally-imposed restrictions. The worst grade you could receive was an N which translated to “No Progress.” For many of us it also meant “No Baseball.”

I was pondering that worry many years ago on Report Card Day. The day before, it had rained so there we were – splashing each other and ducking worms on the playground at recess, some of us with concerns about how we did in Social Studies or Arithmetic. Not only were we down about grades but the Red Sox had lost their opening game to the Washington Senators, and the Celtics had just lost to the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA Finals thanks to Cliff Hagan and Bob Pettit.

Things were bleak…

…until boiler room man appeared on top of the school’s roof.

Seeing Mr. B atop the grade school building was better than a sunny day. It meant that everything up there, like footballs and wiffle ball bats, was coming down. We were like munchkins scrambling to get better glimpses of Glinda, the Good Witch, from the Wizard of Oz. In our eyes, he was more powerful than any witch or wizard. Our worlds stopped spinning when Mr. B materialized up there in the clouds; he  had everyone’s attention.

All that mattered was being in the best possible position to catch whatever he was tossing.

I wrote In 1958 for Sandcutters: Journal of the Arizona State Poetry Society. It was published in 1996.

In 1958

pressure was

report card day,

when grades became

whisk brooms, sweeping

homework ne’er-do-wells

from the playground carpet.

At recess,

Miss Vinegar Clutch

reclaimed wiffle balls,

bean bags and excess glee

from anyone teetering

on the slide.

On the home front,

household heads barked out

orders to polish off Bilko,

and comb out Rinny

from the picture tube.

It was kowabonga to Flubadub,

hello to time behind music stands

and choirs of crab grass

in need of a tune.

I guess I’ll always remember

when chalkboard clouds gave way

to the boiler room man,

who climbed the grade school roof

just in time to throw back

everything once lost,

like hula hoops and hope,

and balls that dodged

a little too far

off the mark, making

life okay again

in 1958.

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One Comment
  1. I share so many of your childhood memories as well. I, too, had a boiler-room man, Mr. Flaherty, who was a little intimidating, but usually friendly to us kids. And I guess report card day probably hasn’t changed all that much even today. Loved your poem. Great post, as always, Bill (

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