Home Run Derby

…Speaking of bullies, we had our fair share. Then again, in those days, being a bully or finding oneself at the receiving end of bully behaviour was a fact of life and par for the course.  One just had to get used to it.  Big Maxx was seen to be a bully. But once you got to know him better you, as I did, would realize that his bullishness was a front for a very innocent, simple minded lad. He was big for his age. a six foot, two hundred pound ten year old. I kid you not. He had a deep, throaty, husky voice: a grown man’s voice. Perhaps Big Maxx was, in essence, well ahead of his time and reached puberty at age 5. And his brain hadn’t caught up.  Perhaps Big Maxx knew full well that his true nature would probably find himself at the receiving end of ridicule.  Perhaps Big Maxx was a lot smarter than we realized. Perhaps he was into needlepoint, or crochet. Who knew? Yes, he did have a very difficult time writing those floral sickening English compositions that our English teacher foisted upon us from time to time.  Memorable themes such as: “The Best Sunset You Ever Experienced Last Summer.”  As in describe it!

The girls in our class thrived on this stuff. Maxx? His composition would be aptly titled: The Best-est Sunset I Never Experienced – Ever! And while “Fig” Newton, the tall blond Amazon of a 10 year old girl, who sat the back of the room by the window, would receive accolades from the teacher for her heavenly, descriptive, but eye rolling, lyrical prose, Big Maxx was receiving gut wrenching guffaws. Yikes! Looking back at that I am sure Big Maxx’s stature was such that the electrodes and electrolytes in his 10 year old brainbox had somewhat of a difficult time in the formulation of a thought, a word, or a sentence then transmitting said thoughts into words, sentences, paragraphs that made any sense at all except for him for it was a long way down from his brain to his fingers. Yes, the fingers that ultimately controlled the stylus: that ultimately transcribed his thoughts, his words, his sentences, his paragraphs onto paper.  But he did get a lot of laughs from us: flora for fauna or fauna for flora; paucity for plethora or plethora for paucity, Romulus for Remus, Remus for Romulus and so on and so forth, and forth so and on so.  Perhaps Big Maxx was dyslexic.  

Yes, we would have a good laugh at Big Maxx’s expense, collectively of course, for there was safety in numbers.  For no one, and I mean no one, would ever think of making fun of Big Maxx to his face.  Then again it may be that Big Maxx was a great deal smarter than most of us in that class. More subtle perhaps, stealth-like, in his own personal objection of having to write such poetic drivel. Yes perhaps Maxx, rather than provoke the teacher’s wrath in refusing to cow tow to a ridiculous assignment, he did what he knew best.  Write the God damn composition, but in his own style to appease the teacher into believing or thinking just how dumb he was – or not.

Yet he was such a good sport and a good friend to me: very strong and very athletic in a clumsy, disjointed kind of way.  We used to play home run derby in the park that backed onto his backyard on those hot dusty summer afternoons in the early sixties – some of the hottest afternoons on record I believe.  Hot and humid, hot and sweaty, hot and stinking hot, but we didn’t care. How hot was it?  It was so hot that you could read the front page of the newspaper from the ink transferred on to your forearm after carrying it over your arm for a few minutes.  Even today, during those hot, muggy days of August, a month that my wife dreaded, I thrived on.  Perhaps those days reminded me of my youth, and those seemingly endless days of summer fun playing games such as home run derby on a hot summer’s afternoon.

To play this game, all one needed was a bat, a rubber ball, some chalk, and three players. Oh and a concrete or a brick wall as a backstop.  One player at bat, one player pitching and another player in the field was all it took. Usually me, Big Maxx and O’Grunts, as his house also backed on to the park.  My house was about a half mile down the road.  But no matter as I lived in that park from dawn to dusk or until the street lights began to flicker.  Jimmy-mum never came to play with us as he preferred to look at, read up on, and study muscle cars.  He did not have an athletic bone in his entire body.

The backdrop for our game came courtesy of the Protestant school, which also ran adjacent to the park, but on opposite sides from the houses.  It was straight to hell for all of us.  Those damn pesky black spots. We didn’t care. After all, what was for? Without us those darn black and whites would be out of their ecclesiastical type of jobs. Like the good Catholics that we were we had to keep those priests and nuns employed after all was said and done.  Otherwise, they might have to get a real job. And, I must confess, which I did every week, we did an excellent job of it.

With the chalk, a 2 foot square was etched out on the brick or concrete backstop. That was the strike zone, which was situated about knee to chest high of the average 10 year old.  The batter had to have some trust in the pitcher if told that the pitch was a strike per se. And three strikes yer out. No walks allowed. That would have been difficult to process with just three players. Then rotate: pitcher to bat, batter to the outfield, outfielder to pitcher, and so on and forth so.  You get the pitcher.  Strike out or hit the ball and if you did it had to be in the air because where the ball landed determined a single, a double, a triple or a home run.  Grounders didn’t count, hence the name of the game.  But only home runs counted for points…