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Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 01:02

Fantasy Wiffle Ball, Old School Style

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I simply do not understand fantasy football or baseball or any other clinically deranged subset of spectator sportsmanship.

But I do understand making-up shit.

My brother taught me the art of imaginary baseball teams when I was a kid. All you needed was a Wiffle bat and ball and the yard was your stadium. Living between two streets, we had a lot of privacy and an interesting playing field.

My brother had a small league he invented with about five teams with six imaginary players on each team. Each of his teams was actually a family: They all had the same last names, which made it easier for him to keep track of everyone. He was very good at creating names and especially nicknames for his players. I was not permitted to disturb him during a "game." He'd get really pissed, and if I pestered him too much, he just quit playing and went off by himself to do some other solo endeavor. One of his most Evil alternative pastimes was dropping sulfuric acid on large black ants with an eye dropper. He got the little jar of acid out of my dad's carpentry shop: It was in a forbidden cabinet right next to the little chemistry jar full of liquid mercury.

[How I got in trouble with the mercury is a tale unto itself, and I may have poisoned my entire fourth grade class -- a story to be told another time. If I did poison them, I didn't mean to, it's just that the mercury, which busted up into little balls inside the pencil holder ditch inside our metal desks, was just too cool to keep to myself ... Like I said, another time.]

My brother had a sadistic streak that was in direct and painful opposition to his acute sensibilities and deep understanding of right and wrong. He was sportsmanlike about his ant assassinations, using the minimum amount of acid, and he squeezed a drop on one ant at a time; it took a lot of concentration and I couldn't bug him when he was doing this, either, because he'd get really cranky. He gathered the withered bodies with tweezers, counted and collected them inside a prescription jar. At a certain point, he would stop. I don't know what his limit was but he didn't attempt, as I later did, to annihilate entire colonies of ants. To this day I consider it one of my greatest acts against Life, because I was not ignorant of my behavior, but deliberate and methodical, creating maps and war campaigns.

Let us return to the imaginary Wiffle Ball Leagues of my youth.

At some point (Douglas was, and is, my brother's name) my brother gave up his fantasy Wiffle Ball pursuits. He was sneaking Tipperillos into our room and drinking now and again and hanging out with a group of semi-delinquents who called themselves the Union Street Boys -- the major crossroad a half block from my house (it was actually called Union Boulevard, but that sounded like a sissy name, I guess).

They weren't really a bad bunch, except for Dennis, an adopted Indian who lived with S.E. Jones and his dad and mom. They all were from Texas. Dennis was allegedly Commanche, but my dad called him a Kickapoo and when he wanted to be mean, a Fugawi -- a tasteless old joke.

Dennis's main problem, aside from being Native American with a chip on his shoulder, was heroin. He was the first dope addict I'd ever seen and my brother told me to stay away from him because you'd never know what he might do. Dennis was charming though, and he talked me out of my bike one afternoon; he was all sweaty and scary desperate: His dark pupils were pinpoint and his black hair greasy and there was a kerosene smell on him from the Jones's house. My dad told me never to let anyone borrow my bike, ever but it was hard to stand-up to Dennis. I watched him pedal down Union Boulevard, his short-sleeve shirt over the muscle shirt flapping in the wind. Dennis was gone a long time and when I came home later my brother asked me why I didn't have my bike. I told him. Dougie was out of the house in a flash. He found Dennis in the hedges outside his house, doped out of his skull, the bike on its side on the lawn.

"You're lucky Dad didn't find out," was all my brother said. He seemed to understand that it was impossible for an eight-year-old to stand-up to Dennis.

Dougie said Dennis was good to have in the gang, even if he was a doper, because rival gangs often clashed with The Union Street Boys in a bar near the train station that served underaged teens. Dennis was a crazy-fighter and would just as soon bite someone's ear off as stab them. "He's a necessary Evil," my brother once said, as if I understood what that meant. We were nine years apart in age and a lot of his phrases only gelled in my skull when I was older.

But I understood imaginary Wiffle Ball.

I took it to another level Douglas never imagined and I wisht he could've seen me. I created uniforms, painstakingly drawing them with colored makers; I invented two separate leagues with eight teams to a league; each team had a full complement of players. There was a schedule and a season. I followed my brother's rule of sticking to the same last name for each team so they were like baseball tribes. There were the Northwood Dixons, a tough all-black team, the South Bay Collinses (habitual losers), The Philadelphia Craddicks (tough but never on the playoffs), The Brentwood Riveras (a Puerto Rican team that often won), the Brooklyn McDoogles (feisty but self-destructive) -- and ... Oh. I can't remember them all.

Of course, there was the scrappy Crawford team out of Long Island. I kept stats, sketched pictures of some of the players in baseball card poses, and, like my brother, kept a running commentary on the game, aloud to myself, as I tossed the ball in the air and hit it according to each player's ability. There was some high drama in those seven-inning games and I was completely absorbed in the fantasy.

There were strike-outs, walks, left handed and right handed batters and amazing fieldings, often handled by one of three round evergreen hedges beside the walk that led to our front door. Lefties often flied out into one of the tall cedars that guarded the driveway. It was about impossible to hit a clean grounder from the corner of the front yard (home plate) across the stubbled lawn, past the crooked wooden fence and into the pebbled driveway that was shallow outfield. A lot of outs accumulated for the less powerful hitters.

There was no base-running involved: It was strictly imaginary and I called the play-by-play. If the dog, poor beast, wandered onto the field or came up to me for attention, I yelled at him and I still feel bad about that. But he broke my concentration. I am still the same when I write, so some things never change. Dear dog! I miss him to this day!

The left field wall was the roof of Dad's shop -- as legendary as Boston's Big Green Monster -- but a shot over that was an easy home run and it was tempting to do often, but it always required a time-out to get the ball and it was often very good at hiding.  A killer, highlight homer was the long shot launched over the yard, through the dying cherry tree branches, past the utility wires and beyond the wood and wire fence that protected the old Greek's yard, a good hundred feet away. They were Mr. and Mrs. Dallas and Mr. Dallas often gave me a roll of orange Life Savers and I remember his quaking blotched hand and how he laughed at my hijinks in the yard, shaking his head. He was fond of me and so was Mrs. Dallas. They were very gentle, old world people, nicer than the Bagosians, an Armenian family whose pater familias considered every young boy a hoodlum, regardless of age. They were hideaway, secretive people, and I think something bad happened to them in their home country. The problem was they had a deep backyard with pear trees and an excellent plum tree, too. I got chased out of it more than once.

Only a few players had the power to send one into the Dallas's yard and the record-breaker was a shot that landed in the grape arbor and was almost impossible to retrieve. I didn't let any but the most heroic players send one over that fence because it meant going around the Dallas's yard, opening the big gate and crossing their beautiful lawn with the arbor and the immaculate gardens and the apple tree. Often what looked like a tremendous smash got snagged by a scrappy outfielder in the form of a large forsythia bush in the Greek's yard; many a game-winning shot was lost in that hedge. My team went down in disgrace one afternoon when I honestly tried to pelt one out of the park with bases loaded, and ... it got caught. I was honest back then and there was no such thing as a "do-over." We lost. We lost to the hated Memphis Charlies.

The Long Island Crawford's resembled the '69 NY Mets, and somehow we got into the playoffs, and, by summer's end and the start of school, we won every series. Usually we beat the New York Drakes. Chuck Drake was a real person. He dated my sister. He was a dork, but he understood imaginary Wiffle Ball, and we'd pitch to each other and have actual games. It was not as much fun as playing alone and Chuck tried too hard to be a big brother, because by then, Douglas was dead, killed in Vietnam: Playing Wiffle Ball by myself, I often felt like I was with him.

The fantasy last maybe one summer and a half. Then a couple of little kids moved into a duplex up front that used to belong to my grandparents but they sold-out to a slumlord named Northrup. There was a Northrup team and we always whupped their asses. The kids' names were Sam and Mokie and they would watch me and I couldn't talk out-loud any more or make the crowd roaring noises I learned to make, the "hey batta hey batta" chant or the heckling that always went on during those games.

Of course they always wanted to play. Like my brother, I gave up after a while of being pestered and went and found something else to do.


Franklin Crawford – Sept. 20, 2014, Fantasy Wiffle Ball

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 September 2014 14:06

"Weed" Atcheson

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Written by Franklin Crawford

Illustrated by Rigel Stuhmiller


Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 18:18

The Fifth Annual Little Apple Fall Follies

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