This series went longer than seven.
In the midst of the 2020 pandemic, our household was out of options.
No live sports. This led to us watching the reruns of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, some of the more interesting programming Fox offered at the time. An active family of two teachers and three students, we were just sitting around in the middle of quarantine.
Until Major League Wiffle Ball was born.
The league came about in a socially-distanced line to enter The Home Depot. We walked in with a list of items for a garden, but walked out with 100 feet of black silt contractor fencing, 4-inch PVC pipe, several cans of spray paint and the idea of making the best ball field for less than $75.
We spent the rest of the day preparing the field. We spray painted home plate, foul lines, batter’s boxes, on-deck circles and a logo. Foul poles were made with closet shelving fastened to PVC pipe, which were painted yellow and stood in the outfield. We staked the fencing every 10 feet, creating an outfield wall that was further from home plate in left field than right.
The field itself was on a slope, which presented both advantages and challenges.
As a baserunner, there was a pretty steep uphill grade toward first and second base, but you caught a nice downhill heading to third and home. For fielders, balls over your head were more work than you probably wanted, but anything in front of you was easy to overrun.
Once the field was ready, we rounded up a few family friends and neighbors to fill roster spots. All of them were either teachers or students, meaning their schedules were as open as ours. We held a draft one day and were ready to play the same night.
Opening Day came with some pomp and circumstance. We heard one of the more interesting renditions of The Star Spangled Banner from our 8-year-old neighbor. Player introductions came from our resident announcer, Dad. And then we played ball.
And a lot of ball was played.
Each game was a different length than the others; it just depended on how everyone felt that day. Sometimes we would change it up, playing four square, football, capture the flag or whatever idea someone possessed. But 6:30 or 7 p.m. was always on the calendar to be outside.
*My team’s right fielder always found a way to faceplant when fielding a ball. Pop fly, grounder or otherwise, his glasses and forehead found their way in the dirt with every batted ball his way. We had to call in our field maintenance crew during one game after someone ran through the left field fence trying to save a home run. Courtesy runners were given to some of the older participants who hurt themselves hustling to first (related note – several of these runners had been thrown out on batted balls that would have been doubles or triples to other baserunners).*
The last time I was in Rocky Face, I grabbed breakfast with one of our friends who played. He brought up that summer and how his days usually went:
“I would wake up, do a little work, then get ready to go to the Ehlers.”
That pretty much summed up the summer of 2020.
Sleep. Eat. Work (a little). Wiffle Ball. Repeat.
But even in the summer with very little going on, I learned a lot:
- Home plate measures 17 inches wide. The two parallel sides of the plate measure 8.5 inches, and the sides to the point measure 12 inches apiece. I’ve repainted those dimensions enough to remember.
- If I’m batting from the right side, I like a pitch a little high and outside. Batting left, I’ll make contact anywhere.
- Bruises from wiffle balls can last for months. For more information, call my sister, who found this out after a comebacker.
- And losing a series isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when you’ve spent time and made memories with those closest to you.
Two years later, the backyard looks much different. Some recent septic work has left the area where home plate once was uneven. One foul pole still sits in the far corner of the backyard, marking 134 feet to the right field wall. The fencing was taken down to make it easier to mow.
But games still happen. Last week, we rounded together the troops once again for a few innings. Beforehand, we contemplated raising the fence, but my sister reminded me that she and I “would be the only ones hitting it out.” So we just played some ball in the backyard.
Maybe it’s baseball, or family, or my family’s love for baseball, but memories were made in the backyard with a ball and a bat. And as the world continues to open itself up from the pandemic and as we get older, things will get busier and busier. And while it stinks that games won’t happen as often, it’s OK.
Because I can still replay the moments of the best summer I’ve lived and picture the best plays from the series that lasted too long.