We were playing a baseball game called 500.
In this game, one batter hits the baseball and everyone else attempts to field it. If a fielder catches a ball on the fly, he is awarded 100 points. If he snags it on one hop, it’s worth 50 points. A ground ball is 25 points, as long as it is still rolling when corralled. If a fielder errs, he receives corresponding negative points. When a fielder accumulates 500 points, he becomes the batter. The game works best if you have plentiful players.
The problem was that there were only two of us. We were a couple of skinny boys, one from the city and one from the farm. He was the son of a doctor. I was the son of a farmer. We were so thin that no one ever suggested we should eat more salads. When I wore a red necktie to church, I looked like a thermometer. Fortunately, the two of us were problem-solvers. We came up with a workable solution.
My friend had a Spalding Hi-Bounce Ball. It was pink in color. He called it a “Spaldeen.” It had more bounciness than the typical rubber ball. We came up with a plan where one of us would toss the ball against the outside of the second floor of our farmhouse and then we would compete to see who could catch the ball. The one who controlled the Spaldeen would be the next to throw it against the siding. We figured a game to 5,000 would be appropriate. That way we could work on our baseball skills and our math skills at the same time.
Few houses were constructed for this type of activity. I don’t know what the builders were thinking. Our house was built to be not quite as nice as the barn because jealous dairy cows don’t give as much milk as haughty ones.
We were tied at 1175 each when it began to rain. We didn’t mind the rain. We weren’t going to rust.
We kept playing and then it happened. The Spaldeen became stuck in the rain gutter. It’s always something. That wasn’t an insurmountable predicament. It had happened before. I had climbed onto the roof many times to retrieve balls. I had the home field advantage, so I didn’t think of asking my friend to get the hidden Spaldeen — even though it was his ball and I could have presented a reasonable argument that it was his duty to do so.
I had experience. I had climbed on the roof before when it was raining. The wooden shingles became very slippery when wet, so it was good that a Spaldeen seeker had some familiarity with placing shoes on slick shingles.
I had fallen off the roof a year earlier on a similar rainy day. I was seeking a ball lodged in an eaves trough that day. I had hit the sidewalk wrong. It’s difficult to hit a sidewalk right. I broke a foot. I heard my father moving about inside the house and, not wanting to bother him with my problems, I’d tried to run, but I couldn’t. A broken foot reduces mobility. I remember when Doc Olds told me that my foot had healed enough that I could climb the stairs to my upstairs bedroom. What a relief that was. I was getting tired of having to clamber up and down the drainpipe.
I was thinking about that fall when I fell again. I did a tuck and roll when I hit the ground. I pretended that I had meant to fall. I jumped up and said, “Ta-da!”
My friend laughed. My father, who had just entered the yard, did not.
My father had been a little crabby. He was worried about the price of soybeans and had taken to biting his fingernails. That is not a good practice for a farmer who works with animal exhaust. In order to cure him of the habit, my mother had hidden his false teeth. That left Dad a wee bit cantankerous.
He checked me over and finding me to be unbroken, began to lecture me.
“How many times do you have to fall off a roof before you learn to stay off it? We just got your broken foot paid for! I know why you didn’t send your friend up there. He wouldn’t have gone. That’s because a doctor’s kid knows better than that. You know why, don’t you? Because a doctor keeps the best children for himself. Didn’t you learn anything from last year’s fall?”
I replied, “I must have learned something, Dad. I got three feet closer to the ball than I did last year.”
Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.
Waterloov gutter cover would have kept the Spaldeen out of the gutter and saved Al a trip to the hospital.