I Dreamt Of Pole Vaulting is essays about my own personal experiences with sports, whether as a fan or participant. We'll see if it lasts. Don't get too attached -- like avocadoes and fate, I can be fickle.)
Part One: "I Decided To Try Out For The Track Team" is here.
Part Two: "The Invisible Runner, And The End Of Whiffle-Ball," is here.
The role of driveways in the development of new sports is perhaps underrated. The role of parents who do not want their fancy, yellowish-gold garage door "wrecked" by numerous black-tar spatter marks on it is perhaps overrated.
And thus the world is largely unaware of the thrilling game of Superball Baseball.
There is a lot of talk these days about whether kids are better, or worse, off because of video games and TVs and cellphones and probably tiny robots that do their (the kids') bidding, for all you know. When was the last time, after all, that you really inspected your kids' rooms? For me, it was never, as I view that as not part of my job. I have in my mind divided up the workload in the house into "jobs that Sweetie does" and "Jobs that I do," and the two categories are exactly even, I can assure you, and might even be weighted such that my jobs are worth a lot more, if you count "playing Plants vs. Zombies while Mr F splashes cold water around the bathroom, until some of the water splashes on me and I have to do something about it, and the thing I do is to get Mr F dressed and throw some towels over the blatantly wet spots, spending a few moments wondering whether all this water is rotting out the floorboards under the tub and if so whether the tub will fall through the floor one day, and then deciding that if it does fall through the floor, we would likely get a new bathroom out of it from our insurance company, so I leave the towels there."
Besides: everyone knows that towels will do the work for you. You don't need to swish them around or wipe things up. Put the towel on the wet spot and wait, and it will hungrily (thirstily?) soak up the spill and, if you are lucky, it will somehow, perhaps hours later, make its way to the dirty laundry through "towel magic,"
So where was I? Tiny robots that are hidden in your kids' rooms waiting to one day take over the world in the cutest rebellion ever? Sounds about right.
The point is, while everyone talks these days about how "harmful" it is for "kids" to spend all their "time" playing "video games", nobody ever talks about how awful it might have been in the olden days, when kids had to make do with games like "Superball Baseball," a game that we were only allowed to play for a short time in my athletic career, because the game threatened the property value of our house, and if there was one thing you did. not. do., it was threaten the property value of our house.
I wasn't even sure, as a kid, what property value was. I mean, as a fairly bright (i.e., 'fat') kid, I knew what the words meant, but I wasn't sure why a property value was so important. And yet, I knew, from the moment I could understand words, that property value was
without even knowing what it was. I knew it was superimportant because it was all my parents ever talked about, really, or at least was one of the three things they ever talked about, those three things being:
1. How much we were embarrassing them in front of the neighbors, and
2. How embarrassing it was for the neighbors to be doing whatever it was they were doing that was so embarrassing that it led my parents to talk circumspectly about it at dinner, and
3. Property values.
"Property values" were protected through a variety of means, including but not limited to never ever ever walking over the front yard after it had just snowed so that the yard would remain pristine like in an old-fashioned postcard, and in never ever cutting across the front yard in the summer because that meant you were going to walk over the small bushes that lined the sidewalk and keep them from growing which also hurt the property values, and through never putting up a Christmas tree with flashing Christmas lights on it, especially one in front of the window where neighbors could see it, and also by not wrecking our garage door, which Superball Baseball (and its later incarnation, handball) promised to do by slowly but surely transferring the layer of blacktop on our driveway from the driveway to the garage door, one superball bounce at a time.
The science of that worked like this:
First, throw a superball onto the driveway, to bounce off the driveway and against the garage door and hence back to you, as shown in Figure 1:
Second: The ball hitting the driveway impacts the "blacktop"
as shown in Figure 2:
Third: The "blacktop" is made up of billions of tiny creatures known as "molecules," who, like spiders, want nothing more than to get inside your house, where, unlike spiders, the molecules will simply and peacefully track up your living room carpet and/or destroy your kitchen tile.
Whereas, we all know, spiders want to hide in wait in your pillow until you fall asleep and then crawl into your mouth and kill you, and if you think I am drawing that you are insane. The mere idea already haunts my every waking moment. I'm not going to put a picture with the thought.
Instead, we'll move on to Figure Four:
Which is what your garage door looks like at the start of a Superball Baseball game.
And then there is Figure Five:
which is what the garage door looks like after the game, which leads to Figure 6:
...your dad's reaction.
By which we can see that Superball Baseball was potentially dangerous to life on Earth and it's probably a good thing that nowadays no kids play Superball Baseball unless they play it on their iPhones while waiting in line to get rave, which is probably what they're doing right now, as you haven't checked on them in a while.
"Superball baseball" was a game that combined many many great (i.e. "not great") things, such as "baseball" and "superballs" and "not having to be very athletic or strenuous" and also "getting to play in the road," which was safer back in the 1980s than today because back in the 1980s nobody cared what happened to kids, at least for 364 days of the year. In the 1980s, cars didn't have seatbelts and if they did nobody cared about them, and MTV showed music videos of people in extremely tight clothing during the day, and kids could play in the road all day long, or even set up actual bike races that took them around the neighborhood, 2 or 3 miles from their houses riding bikes as fast as they could on actual streets containing actual cars, and nobody cared.
The one day a year that parents sat up and tried to protect their kids, in the 1980s, was Halloween, when parents everywhere alerted their kids not to ever, ever, eat either apples or Pixie Sticks that they got for trick-or-treat, because apples were certain to have razor blades in them, and Pixie Sticks probably had the powdered candy replaced with some sort of powdered acid. Having told their kids that, parents then sent them out trick-or-treating by themselves in the dark for hours on end, unsupervised and wearing flammable, dark-colored clothing.
Here is how you played Superball Baseball: You and another person -- let's say, your brother, or Paul, the kid from next door who sometimes seemed a little weird but mostly was okay -- would get a superball, one of those tiny plastic balls that were all the rage in the 1970s and 1980s, too, and let me take a moment here to just go back to an earlier point that I will elaborate on now:
ARE YOU PEOPLE COMPLETELY CRAZY?
People sit around fretting about kids playing video games and reading books online and having webpages and never getting outside and reminisce about the "old days" when parents played, apparently, mumblety-peg, and yet every single thing I write about what we did when we were kids involves saying stuff like
"tiny plastic balls that were all the rage"
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, life sucked so hard that people got excited when superballs were invented. Which is to say: people got excited when plastic got a little more dense. VIVA LA 1980s!
I have some good memories of childhood, and had some fun playing games, but the thing is: all the fun stuff that I did when I was a kid, like taking inner tubes to the Bark River and floating them down to Nixon Park, or sledding down Kill Hill, or bike-racing -- all of that can still be done today (albeit by local ordinance it all must be done in the form of "organized soccer" on Saturday mornings, and Tom has to bring the donuts this week) -- but everything else has become one hundred quintillion times more awesome, because if you don't feel like doing one of those things, nowadays you can go to a playground that is not just "a couple of swings dangling from rusty chains" and you can go play video games that let you explore whole worlds, and you can download every single book ever in about 30 seconds per book and read it and you have movies at your fingertips and kids have tiny robots, probably, so let's have an end to all this "boy things were better back when I was a kid" nonsense because it was not.
You want your kids to go out tubing on the Bark River? Take them. Then let them play their iPads on the way and on the way home and everyone's happy and nobody had to hear you drone on and on about life back when people knew what "Kajagoogoo" was (but they didn't like it.)
SO: in Superball Baseball, you and Paul get a superball, and a driveway. For some reason, it is always your driveway and not somebody else's. This is because you don't really think your dad will mind if this time you play just a little bit, plus you don't really get why all those black marks upset people and hurt "property values."
Then, one player is "up to bat." That player stands behind the long crack that went across the driveway, and bounces the ball on the driveway towards the door.
We had three large bushes to the left of the driveway, bushes my mom called "Russian Olive trees." I point that out not because it is important to the game, or because there was anything particularly impressive about these bushes, or for any other reason other than to note that it was drilled into us, for some reason, that these were Russian Olive Trees. I do not know the significance of them being Russian. I never saw them grow olives. I don't know why I still remember, 36 years later or so, that they were Russian Olive Trees. I could not name for you any other tree or plant in our yard when I was growing up (or in my yard now, for that matter: when, annually, I take $4 to the Wal-Mart garden center in August and buy whatever is on sale to put into my yard, I leave the tags on so that I can later identify which plant it was our neighbor's dog ate.)
But there you are: they were Russian Olive Trees, the only plant I can successfully identify as an adult, a dubiously useful skill in that the only place I ever saw such trees was to the left of our driveway in Hartland, and I'm pretty sure they're not there anymore.
The batter had to bounce the ball on the driveway before it went past the first tree before it hit the garage door, or it was an out.
When the ball came back off the garage door, the fielder had to catch it. If the fielder caught it on the fly, it was an out. If he caught it after one bounce, you got a single. Two, you got a double. Three, a triple. Are you with me so far? Four and it was a homerun -- or if you got the ball to bounce into the road, and the fielder didn't catch it, it was a home run.
It was that simple (i.e, boring.) It combined all the (lack of) thrill of baseball with all the (lack of) excitement of standing on a driveway, the most thrilling times being when someone would throw the ball and a car would come at the same time, something that rarely happened as, back then, people worked during the day and nobody was just out driving around like idiots all day and all night. Have you ever noticed that? Sometimes, I drive somewhere during the day, and the road is just packed with other cars, people heading hither and yon, and I think "Don't you people have jobs? Why are you all out driving around?" I mean, yes, I have a job and am out driving around, but I have a purpose, whereas the people who are driving around in front of me appear to be doing nothing more important than randomly stopping and/or making left turns.
This attitude, that cars should not be out and about during the day, was created, too, when I was a kid and cars were not out and about, when fathers took the car to work before the sun rose and didn't return until nearly dark (albeit not dark enough to hide the marks on the garage door) and mothers did not drive anywhere during the day, unless it was to the "JCPenney white sale," where Mom went a lot, I think.
Superball baseball lasted one summer -- and not even that whole summer. It was one of the last non-organized sports I would take part in as a kid, because the next summer, in an attempt to get me out into the world, I would be signed up for T-Ball.