By ice rivers
We played catch constantly on the Avenue and in the field.
If you're gonna play baseball, you've got to be able to catch the ball.
We all loved out mitts.
My favorite mitt was a Rawling's six fingered, Eddie Matthews model.
Partly because of that glove, I earned another nickname. They called me Raw.
Catch came in many varieties.
At first we just tossed tha ball back and forth, over and over again. This of course required a partner. When we were alone, we learned to throw the ball against porch steps and catch it when it bounced back.
Eventually, when we had a partner, we'd play pitch and catch. In pitch and catch...one of us was the pitcher and one of us the catcher. The "pitcher" would do the full windup and throw the ball to the catcher who was in the crouching position. The catcher would call balls and strikes would make a clicking sound upon cxatching a "strike". The click meant the ball was in play. The throwback would be a pop fly or a hard hit ground ball. The pitcher had to be prepared for the click. If he fielded the ground ball, for instance, he would become a momentary infielder and fire the ball back to the catcher who had become a momentary first basemen. Every three "outs" we would change position...the pitcher would become the catcher and the catcher would become the pitcher.
Me and my buddy Al played the most pitch and catch.
Then there was "pepper" which involved a bat. Pepper was played in close range, maybe three feet apart. The fielder would underhand the ball to the guy with the bat and the batter would tap it back. Pepper was all about reflex and bat control and trust. Once again, Al was my best partner for pepper. He had great bat control so his tap backs were hard but not too hard. We weren't trying to kill each other. I trusted Al.
Two of my crazier friends, X the Known and King, invented a game called wipe catch where they would fire the ball back at each other as hard as they could while decreasing the distance between them. That game usually ended with either King or Known getting wiped out by a return throw that came in way too fast and too hard and ricocheted off their bodies.
Nobody wanted to play wipe catch with either of them. They were trying to kill each other.
I kept playing baseball all the way into college. I played on a great intramural fast pitch softball team. We were great because we had the "fastest" picher in the league...a guy named Don Peterson. We called Peterson Cougar because of the word and insignia on the Zippo lighter that he always carried which had the word Cougar written on it. He could care less if he killed the batter or not. Nobody dug in against him. Nobody even wanted to bat against him. One guy I knew got hit in the ass by a Peterson fast pitch and didn't go to class for the next week. I'm not saying that his bruised ass was the only reason he cut all his classes but he used his ass as an excuse.
My freshman year, I lived in Blake Hall which was a temporary residence while the new dorms were being built. My sophomore year, the new dorms were available. The new dorms had suites of three rooms surrounding a common room. My suite was B1d on the ground floor of spanking new Wyoming dorm.
In freshman year, we had no choice of room mates but by sophomore year, we were able to choose and be chosen. Six guys in a suite. My suite mates were Paul, Butsh, Cat, Beast, and Murph. All of us were ballplayers and some of us, like Paul, Butsh, Cat and Beast were varsity players in thier freshman year.
All of them were great guys. Murph, Cat, Butsh and I came from Blake Hall so we were already friends. Paul and Beast were from Sturges hall where they had been roomies. I didn't know Paul that well but I knew he was a tremendous athlete.
On moving in day, Paul and I settled in first. We had a few moments so we decided to play catch. Catch measures trust as well as skill.
It was a different kind of catch. Paul didn't have his glove so he threw and I caught. Paul had a formidable arm. He started throwning the ball high, way high, up into the air. It was wipe catch except the ball speed was based on the velocity of its descent. The first couple of throws he made got my attention. I'd never seen a guy throw a ball that high.
I was in a space between the dorms that was still scarred by construction. There wasn't a lot of room and the area that was available was loaded with ditches and rocks.
After me and Rawlinfgs caught the first couple of throws, I could tell that Paul was impressed. I was getting a little nervous. I raised my inex finger to signal "one more".
Paul realized this was the last throw and put everything he had into it, the highest fly of them all. I circled around trying to avoid the obstacles and I got under the ball when I stepped into a ditch and lost my balance. I fell to the ground. While on the ground, I remember thinking "damn, I was right under that ball".
An instant later I realized how "under the ball" I was as the ball, picking up speed all the way, hit me right on the top of the head.
I'm told that the ball bounced fifteen feet in the air directly off my dome.
Momentary visions of Willie Mays and the sound of Buddy Holly took over my brain. I must have been "out" for a few seconds.
When I regained my consciousness, I realized that most of my new suitemates had gathered just as Paul threw the ball. Everybody saw what happened and everybody froze. When I focused on them, they all had an expression of horror and humor on their faces, especially Paul.
Somebody yelled, "Are you allright, Raw."
I didn't know if I was or not but I managed to say "Yeah, I'm good."
With that everybody broke out into relieved, raucous laughter.
I picked myself up and joined them at the entrance to the dorm.
I didn't know exactly what to say but I remember uttering these words:
"I knew I was under it."
"Yes, you were" they all agreed while stifling their laughter.
Thus began the daze that I lived in throughout my sophomore year, a year that played out like some kind of radio dream, full of music and surprise.