Centrifugal bumble-puppy, and other games

My grandfather’s team, circa 1910. That’s him squatting at the far right of the seated row. Notice that in those days, they didn’t even bother to go out and buy matching uniforms. They just came and played ball.

Over the weekend, I was out running errands after a long day of working in the yard, and I decided it would be a good day for us to have a takeout dinner. So once that plan was approved by headquarters, I called La Fogata and placed the order. I was told it would take 20 minutes.

I was easily within five minutes of the restaurant, so I drove in the other direction, looking for a way to kill time. I decided to visit the park behind North Side Middle School, and see what was going on there — I figured that this time of year, there’d be some action on one or more of the ballfields.

I was right. I drove through the parking lot, and had to pick my way slowly and carefully because of all the boys, who were generally within a couple of years of 12 I’d guess, and parents who were apparently returning to their cars after a game that had just ended.

And then I noticed something: Their progress back to their cars, and my progress through them, were both impeded by the gear they were hauling. And by the elaborate gear for hauling that gear.

The most cumbersome were the wheeled contraptions that held bags, coolers, bats and such. They looked like people preparing to sell things from a barrow. Those were the most noticeable, but everyone had an unusual amount of gear. The lightest were elaborate, specialized backpacks many of the players were wearing. The packs seemed full, and each had two bats sticking up from the pack, one on each side.

Back in the day, when I played ball, you brought yourself and your mitt to the game, and that was it. (Unless, of course, you were the catcher.) The coach would have a duffel bag full of bats and balls, and sometimes conscientious players (who were perhaps eager for more playing time) would help the coach by carrying that bag from coach’s car to the dugout.

But now, every player or player’s parent I saw was hauling at least as much as the coach would once have, and often more. I don’t even know what some of that stuff they were carrying and pulling was. But there was a very great deal of it.

Of course, all this brought to mind one of the books I’ve been rereading lately instead of the books I was supposed to read this year: Huxley’s Brave New World. If you’ll recall, in this super hyped-up extrapolation of Western consumer culture, all the games — like centrifugal bumple-puppy, and electromagnetic golf — require elaborate, expensive, easily-broken equipment to play. Everyone is conditioned from birth to want to play these games at every opportunity. Not to keep themselves in shape or exercise sportsmanship, but to keep them buying the stuff.

And I got to thinking about the various social influences that must have been at work over recent decades to convince these kids, and parents, that they had to have all this stuff to play baseball. Huxley had sleep-conditioning to bring about this effect. I don’t know what happened with these folks.

We used to have this wonderful, simple, pastoral game called baseball. Originally, there weren’t even gloves. Just a ball and a stick for everyone to share. And even after the gloves came along, for a long time players would leave them out in the field while batting rather than carry them back and forth to the dugout.

No more. Now there’s all this junk, and all this hauling back and forth. And don’t even get me started on the designated hitter…

Two generations later — about 1969. That’s me in the back, standing next to the coach on the far left. By this time the uniforms matched, but we mostly only brought those and our gloves.

13 thoughts on “Centrifugal bumble-puppy, and other games

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, one thing that I hope helps explain what I saw.

    I had to navigate around an SUV that was blocking traffic while the driver carried on a conversation. I noticed the vehicle had Georgia plates.

    So maybe this was a travel-league game. Those folks — by which I mean the parents — tend to be a bit extreme. They tend to overdo. You don’t expect their teams to look like the one in “The Sandlot.”

    That might help explain all the stuff they’d bought, and brought…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And since you mention the title…

      You know, when this came out back when I was in high school I found the message in those words infinitely sad. I liked the album in spite of that song’s title and lyrics, not because of them.

      But after a couple of days of dealing with everyone going nuts over the Roe leak, “All Things Must Pass” actually sounds kind of nice…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Yeah, from the description of the players being loaded down with gear and the cars being from out of state, I think you were seeing a travel ball team. Travel ball has been pretty controversial in youth baseball circles for a while now.

    First, it’s a pretty expensive proposition. On top of all the travel expenses (gas, hotels, etc.) you have to pay for the uniforms (usually three) tournament entry fees (often around $400 – $700) and that’s before you buy a bat, glove, and some baseballs. It gets expensive. Accordingly, it prices some families out from the start, regardless of how good their player might be.

    Travel ball also can be a little too competitive. At young ages (I’m talking 7 to 13 year olds) the focus should be on developing players and creating players who love the game. That can be pushed aside by travel ball coaches who constantly chase tournament trophies and wind up having a ten-year-old kid throw over a hundred pitches in a two day period. That’s borderline child-abuse in my book, as that kind of stress will guarantee a kid needs arm surgery by the time he’s finishing high school.

    Finally, travel ball often comes at the expense of hometown rec leagues where all the kids are from the same area. In travel ball tournaments, you don’t know the players on the other team – they’re total strangers. By contrast, in local rec leagues, the players all know each other, the parents all know each other, as it’s a community league. The teams feature players of varying skill level, but the players get to play with (and against) their friends.

    Rec leagues are the core, pure community institutions. For instance, Palmetto Baseball League is the rec league that my son participates in, and it’s one of the best parts of the fabric of Columbia. I played in PBL when I was little, and now I get to see my son play with his classmates, neighborhood friends, and it’s about as good as it gets. From time to time, a player will quit a rec league in favor of travel ball on the theory that travel ball will get them “noticed” and on the path to playing baseball in the collegiate level or higher. I think that’s a bit misplaced, but other people have their own opinions.

    Travel ball has it’s place, but if you want the purest form of youth baseball, come watch a PBL game some weekend in April.

    As for their gear, each player on my team has a backpack that has: their own batting helmet, a glove, batting gloves, a water bottle, a ball, and one bat. I’m still not sure why any player would bring two bats to a game (or a practice). That baffles me.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Symmetry, I think.

      It also occurred to me that the kids think it makes them look like a ninja to have those two bats mounted on their backs. Or like Deadpool. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with baseball.

      I remember during my own brief career in baseball (that picture at the bottom of the post is from my one year I got to play organized ball, my last year of eligibility for senior little league), and during those years of playing softball as an adult, I would sometimes think about getting my own bat and bringing it to the games.

      But I didn’t. I contented myself with the bats in the team bag. I always found one or two that had a good feel to me, and I’d stick to those.

      I think on some level it felt like bringing my own, personal bat would be putting on airs — topping it the nob. I wouldn’t want the other guys to see me doing something like that…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, if you think you MUST have your own bat, it could make sense to have a backup — IF it’s made of wood. Because they break.

        But with aluminum, I just don’t know. Maybe one bat is for pulling down the third-base line, and you think the other works better for hitting to the opposite field?…

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Yeah, you can’t discount the motivation of “Because it looks cool”.:) I’ve got a baseball filled weekend, myself. Coaching my son’s team in the first round of our league’s playoffs tomorrow at 1:00pm, and then going to a Fireflies game with the family since a good friend had extra tickets and invited us.

        Have a good weekend everyone.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Good playoff win in the first round for my scrappy, underdog team. We had a walk-off hit from our left-handed hitting second baseman in the final inning to seal the win. Accordingly, my fellas play today against a very good team in the second round of the playoffs. Hopefully, we can pull off the upset and keep the ride going.

    1. Barry

      my oldest loved playng baseball in our rec league when he was young- until a coach demanded that they practice 4 days a week and “if you can’t make it, you can’t play”

      Right away they were scheduled practices on Saturday and Sundays.

      This was a rec league that when we signed up stated there would be 1- 2 games a week and a practice a few days a week.

      Having a coach for 10 year olds who thinks he’s trying to land a major league job is not fun.

      After a long talk my wife had with the coach (because I was a bit too angry to deal with him), we quit baseball for good.

  3. Bill

    Lazy stadium night
    Catfish on the mound.
    “Strike three, ” the umpire said,
    Batter have to go back and sit down.
    Catfish, million-dollar-man,
    Nobody can throw the ball like catfish can.
    Used to work on Mr. Finley’s farm
    But the old man wouldn’t pay
    So he packed his glove and took his arm
    An’ one day he just ran away.
    Catfish, million-dollar-man,
    Nobody can throw the ball like catfish can.
    Come up where the yankees are,
    Dress up in a pinstripe suit,
    Smoke a custom-made cigar,
    Wear an alligator boot.
    Catfish, million-dollar-man,
    Nobody can throw the ball like catfish can.
    Carolina born and bred,
    Love to hunt the little quail.
    Got a hundred-acre spread,
    Got some huntin’ dogs for sale.
    Catfish, million-dollar-man,
    Nobody can throw the ball like catfish can.
    Reggie Jackson at the plate
    Seein’ nothin’ but the curve,
    Swing too early or too late
    Got to eat what catfish serve.
    Catfish, million-dollar-man,
    Nobody can throw the ball like catfish can.
    Even Billy Martin grins
    When the fish is in the game.
    Every season twenty wins
    Gonna make the hall of fame.
    Catfish, million-dollar-man,
    Nobody can throw the ball like catfish can.


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