Once upon a time—more than 65 years ago—I played baseball nearly every day in the summer with two of my brothers. We were lucky cusses. We had our own diamond.
Living near the county fairgrounds in Frankfort, Indiana, we took over an empty field there, and my oldest brother, Jim, became the architect and head groundskeeper.
He pounded a piece of plywood into the ground and that was home plate. Another board went into the ground 60 feet away for the pitcher’s mound. First base was a post on a fence surrounding the dirt track where harness races were held.
Third base (we’ll get to second base in a moment) was another board in the ground. Cows sometimes grazed in the field, and since there was no cleaning up after cows, a dry cow patty was usually designated as second base. It was understood there would be no close plays at second. A base runner or fielder didn’t have to step on the base, and obviously there was no sliding into it.
A gate allowed entry to our baseball diamond. When it was locked, we climbed over the fence after throwing bats, gloves and ball (singular) over. Jim liked to mow the infield grass occasionally, and if the gate was locked we lifted a hand lawn mower over the fence. (Just thinking about it makes me admire the muscles we once had.)
Baseball is a slow game and Indiana is a hot place in the summer. I don’t believe that any of us—Jim, our brother Bob or the neighborhood guys we played ball with—had ever heard of the word hydration. Once we left the house we were in the field for hours, standing in the blazing sun waiting; waiting for the pitcher to throw one over the plate, waiting for the batter to retrieve a ball he hadn’t swung at (there weren’t enough of us to have the luxury of a catcher), waiting for the batter to hit one and thinking of something cool to drink but not having anything.
Many times it was only the three McCoy brothers playing a game we called Scrub. We would each take a turn batting, pitching and fielding. While we loved each other, that wasn’t always apparent. When arguments broke out, the sport of baseball took on the elements of dodge ball and the high jump. Should one of us want to go home before everyone had a turn batting, a ball might be thrown at the quitter or even, on special occasions, a bat. I don’t recall that these festivities ever produced any injuries nor were grudges held. We were all back out there the next day.
The daily pounding on a ball took its toll. There were times when one of us literally knocked the cover off the ball. That didn’t mean the game was over. It meant we took black tape and fashioned a new cover for the ball. Eventually the ball would get spongy, and we would ride our bikes into town to buy a new one. It wasn’t really a “we” situation. Jim always seemed the one who came up with the dollar and a half or whatever was needed for a brand new ball. We treasured it for a while, trying to keep it out of the dirt, but it soon took on a scruffy appearance like every other ball we had owned.
Bob was far and away the best athlete of the family. Even before his teen years, when he threw a ball, your glove would pop and your palm would sting, and he wasn’t even throwing hard. He threw a perfect game his first outing in high school.
Memories of our ballpark are particularly strong when the Major League baseball season starts. I admire Jim for the work and passion he put into the place and can still see him running full speed in the outfield chasing a fly ball. He usually got there in time. I never have asked for his autograph. I really should.
(This originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Great South Bay Magazine.)
Editor's Note: The picture was not taken at the Clinton County Fairgrounds.