The last time I played Strike-Out/Fast Pitching was in the late 1970's in Ottawa, Illinois at the old Shabonna Elementary School. My Buddy Charlie Olson and I were clearing out his late-father's house and selling items. It was hotter than twenty- two rats making love in a pair of old knee socks and we took a break. After a guzzling a couple of quarts of Rhinelander, we decided to play 'fast-pitching' at the school across the street from Charlie's Pa's house.
There was a nicely chalked box already there. We grabbed a bat and rubber baseball that was as pock-marked as a teenage boy and called 'play ball!' Charlie was and remains a superb athlete and could bring the heat. I am a spaz - nevertheless, when Charlie burned one low and outside SAMAAAASH!!!!!!!!! That sonofabitch sailed for what seemed . . .a few minutes and the rubber missile sphere shattered upon reaching the sub stratosphere! Thus, ending the game. " Hickey!!!!!!!"
So ends my glory days.
I played fast-pitching all over the south side as a kid. We had a dried up cholera infested viaduct ( now) sealed up with concrete) at 75th Place at Wood under the Metra tracks. Both walls were chalked by the likes of Jimmy Shea, Al McFarland, Maurey Lanigan, Larry Fiscelli, Terry Smith and the Walsh Brothers. Mostly we played at Clara Barton Elementary and on rare occasions the Hamilton Dairy Barns at 75th Place and Paulina.
Every surface of smooth concrete was a PlayStation.
One rarely sees little guys playing fast pitching, or little girls chalking Sky Blue patterns on sidewalks.
Chicago author Dennis Foley has a movie about to be produced and shot in my Morgan Park/Beverly neighborhood. It called Old Bob: A Story of Hope. Dennis uses the chalk box as art work for the yarn.
Younger persons will be lost on the meaning. Drive-bys, Nintendos, I-phones and adult inspired organized fun have permanently damaged a child's ability to play, it seems to me. Innocence demands active imaginations and electric gizmos do not help and neither do needy adult supervisors living their shallow dreams through kids.
I vote for more pick-up baseball, football and chase games organized by the kids themselves. I am blessed to watch the little girls and guys in Morgan Park play sewer cover rules baseball at the corner of 108th & Maplewood, but rarely see it going on anywhere else. And I get out alot.
So do others.
Chicago architecture critic Lee Bey wrote a wonderful piece for WBEZ a while ago that explains the game of Strike Out aka Fast Pitching.
"So seeing two on a single wall in one day caught me by surprise. I didn't even have my camera with me. I had to make do with my cellphone cam.
"In Strike Out, a pitch inside the box was a strike, but a hit was judged a single, double, triple or homer, depending on the distance the ball traveled after leaving the bat; there were no bases for the batter to run. If the ball was caught on the fly by the opposing team, it was an out. If the pitcher caught the ball on a single bounce, it was an out.
"The building was an important part of the game because you needed one with a flat brick, concrete or limestone surface with enough mass to absorb the energy of the fast pitch, yet return the rubber ball without enough velocity to reach the pitcher on a strike. And no glass near the box. Strike Out was great way to play baseball without having 18 people. A team could be as few as one to four players.
"I was wearing a suit and had my baseball-loving daughters (two teens and a 'tween) with me when I photographed the Strike Out box. Maybe I'll double back one day with a rubber baseball to see if my 44-year-old arm has the stuff, still. Just gotta remember to bring the shoulder ointment."
I'd love to see our young people give the thumb-dummy addiction a rest. I'd love to see kids get out and play.