Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lawyers go after whiffleball "field of dreams" built by teens in Connecticut: "Give Me a Break!"

Here is a story for John Stossel’s “Give Me a Break.” Some teenagers build a whiffleball stadium on a city-owned lot that they cleared of weeds, in Greenwich Connecticut. And the neighbors are complaining – about whiffleball.

The story by is Peter Applebome, on the front page of today’s New York Times, in his “Our Towns” series, and has the enticing title, “Build a Whiffle Ball Field in Greenwich, and Lawyers Will Come”. Both the print and online versions have an attractive picture of the asymmetric field, with a Bostonian Fenway-style “Green Monster” wall, but in center field rather than left. The link is here.

Now this brings back all memories of backyard baseball when I was a boy (in the 1950s, when the Senators lost most of their games, particularly on road trips). We actually played softball in our backyards. They all had different ground rules. In some yards, over the fence was out, so home run areas were carved out. In my back yard, there was a mesh fence in front of the garden, with a tulip poplar knocking down many balls, so you learned place hitting. When we had one, two, or three people on a team, we had a force out at any base not reached. That is, with two individual players, the only way you scored was usually to place hit a “homer” or to get a run if the pitcher wild pitched over the other fence behind the plate (that happened a lot). Even though I was the “weakling” I won a lot of my “home games” because I mastered the place hitting. The scores were reasonable, typically about 5-8 runs total in a typical game. And there were some "walkoff" home team wins.

We also tried whiffle ball, and even stocking ball.

In Ohio in the summer, we played whiffle ball, with farm house porch screens often forming a “wall” in one field. One kid, actually in foster care given by my aunt, designed a field of dreams for real baseball, with a left field wood fence about 300 feet from home plate. No one ever hit the ball over. (The “mistake by the lake” in Cleveland was 30 miles away – and I visited that arena enough times.)

At a garden apartment near Princeton NJ, some of us young working adults played a whiffleball game one Saturday afternoon. The dimensions of the courtyward were just about right. I pitched, and won "on the road" 3-2. With whiffleball, it pays to experiment with various grips relative to the air slots, and the ball really does break.

In the Army, we played in an enclosed softball field across the street from the eyebrow barracks at Fort Eustis. I was in my best shape ever, and reached the center field fence on the fly (about 300 feet), to everyone’s surprise, and a roommate, himself a 140 pound “weakling” who called himself “Rado Suhl” roped a ball out of the park down the line exactly the regulation 250 feet. On a church retreat in 1969, I actually hit a legitimate home run, out of the park, on the first pitch of the game, because I was in good shape. But back in May 1959, in 10th Grade, I was the talk of high school the day that I hit a home run (a ground ball on an unenclosed field, albeit) and “pitched” a 4-0 shutout “road” win in softball in PE class.

Remember, Washington is on its third major league team "reincarnation". And this year the Nats are so decimated by injuries that they field a minor league lineup than can win a third of its games.

On Friday, July 11, The Washington Post ran a story by Daniel LeDuc and David Nakamura, p B1, Metro, "Nationals Withhold Rent on Ballpark: Hundreds of Items are Incomplete, Team Owners Say", link here. This story refers to the new "field of dreams" for the Nationals on the Anacostia River. Many businesses and residents were displaced for this economic real estate development.

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