By Tom Kovach
Growing up on a farm in north-central Minnesota wasn’t all chores and hard work … although there was plenty of that too. But back in the l950s and early l960s when I was growing up there were a number of small farms like ours within a mile or so. There were neighbor kids close to my age and my brother John’s who was three years older than me. We’d get together when we weren’t milking, working in the garden, or bringing in hay.
One of our favorite pastimes was playing our version of baseball, even though we really didn’t know the rules. The pasture next to the barn was a good place to have our games. Somehow, someone acquired a baseball and bat. One of the neighbor kids got a cheap baseball glove which we shared. Otherwise it was just barehanded catching. But it worked.
The salt lick might be first base and one wall of the barn was a backstop so we didn’t have to have a catcher and the batter would throw the ball back to the pitcher. Thing is, we didn’t usually have more players than my brother and two red-headed kids who lived about a mile or less down the road. With only two players on a team, we had ghost runners. That is, if you hit a single, you could go back to bat and an imaginary runner would take your place. Same thing on second base or third base. It got a little complicated when you had two ghost runners on base and one real person on the third base. So, bases would be loaded and a real person could bat. The defense had the pitcher and one guy in the outfield. But it worked … sorta.
We ran into a problem when Larry, who was always wild and crazy (but a good kid) said that his ghost runner stole a base! We said, “Larry, we have to draw the line someplace. Ghost runners cannot steal bases!” Larry just chuckled and said, “Wanna bet? My ghost runner is really, really fast!”
Ya, without TV and video games, farm kids had to use their imagination. And we had plenty of that. It was fun, it was cheap, and it sure broke up the day and was a great relief from regular chores. I wonder if any pro baseball players started out their career that way. Well, probably not. But it’s always nice to dream.
My dad was stationed in Turkey(1969), so we didn’t have him, but we were on our ranch in Hatfield, Arkansas and had the neighbor kid, my mom, and my twin brother, Joe, and me. I don’t remember if we had rules or what, but we got out in the cow pasture and played and had so much fun!! We had ball, bat, and couple gloves; no bases per se.
We played a similar version when I was on a summer camp staff. Our rules included ghost runners, even the batter running to first. A ball batted and stopped in the infield was an out. If the ball got past the infield on the ground, it was a single. Past the infield on a fly but stopped in the outfield was a double. Flew over the infield and past the outfield on the ground – a triple. Over the heads of the outfield was a homer. Due to shortage of players, a ball hit to the wrong field was also an out, ie.a right handed batter hitting to right field was an out and a lefty hitting to left. GREAT MEMORIES!!! (We called it Indian Ball)