By Peter Lederman

It was a pilgrimage. It was an early morning ritual that was played out through all the available weekends of my childhood. Get up as soon as I awoke. Wash quick. Eat quick. Grab my glove and a ball, or a football or a basketball and quietly slip out the door with a mumbled, “I’m going to Phil’s or Mickey’s” or maybe to nobody’s; just out to play ball. On the best and easiest of Saturday mornings there was no one else in the house awake to have to talk to.

I simply walked or rode my bike to the next player’s house. I tapped on the window to his bedroom or the kitchen door quietly so that he and only he would know the time was ripe. If all went well, he also slipped quietly into the early sunshine of our day with his glove and maybe a roll or some candy in his hand or mouth, and now there were two of us. Once in a while, at someone’s house, because of too loud a tap or/and an insomniac parent, that kid was forced to wash better, and eat better and explain better what he was up to. It was tense and awkward and we longed to be quickly out the door. But finally we’d escape. These scenes repeated till our numbers were strong and we pilgrims gathered at our field, at the sacred center of our childhood, and the games began.

I remember no individual game, no event or championship. I remember only that the flow of action, of mixing it up or arguing or imagining was continuous. It lasted for weekends for years. It was precious, and it was ours. If we started an argument it was up to us to finish it or our game could possibly be damaged or—at worst—broken up. If we lost our ball we’d chip in or scrounge change or turn in bottles to get another. We made our own teams mercilessly and invented our own games. We were an order, a brethren. If, per chance, an outsider kid came into that sacred center we could be vicious in closing ranks and expelling him, unless, of course, we were short a player. If a parent chanced by we would pose harmlessly; impatient with pleading faces put on to allow us to continue. The most humiliating fate to befall any of us was to be yanked prematurely out of our game by any of our mothers who might have a seemingly desperate need for her kid to do his homework, or play the piano or, worst of all, to go visit relatives. That is my memory, my sense of the privacy of my youth and the way I learned to play ball and learned the lessons of life.

I won’t even bother comparing for you the way my son has been forced to play his ball games, to learn his life’s lessons, but only to relate the obvious. On Saturday mornings, I would wake him, hurry him, feed him, and remind him to take all of his equipment, and I picked up his friends and their fathers. I would go to HIS field and watch or coach HIS game in a crowd of my peers. We watched every single moment of our kids’ efforts, intruding ourselves into the very fabric of their play. We interfered in the game with our shouts and opinions and then reviewed their performances like critics from the Sporting News.

Yes it’s NICE to share these times with your kid. At least we hope and believe that it’s true from both sides of the coin. But we are stealing something wondrous and precious from them: the right to simply play, unfettered and unobserved, in the privacy of their own youth. Some day they’ll give a game and hopefully only the children will show up.~