Apr 16, 2012
Baseball in a 1960s Housing Project
by Rosemary Reeves
Back when I lived in the project, I was a girl whose most frequent companion was her brother. Kevin was born three years before me and it was his misfortune to spend the greater part of his boyhood with his tag-along sister. We had six other siblings but they were all teenagers, so when it came to supervised outdoor play, Kevin was stuck with me most of the time. There was one exception, though. Mom allowed him to play baseball with the other project boys with no interference from me. In the 1960s baseball was a sacred boy’s game off limits to girls and Mom called me inside whenever the boys gathered together for baseball on the housing project grass.
Kevin didn’t even like me to watch him participate because it wrecked his concentration. Sometimes I watched the game half-heartedly from a short distance, though, whenever Mom let me stay outside. This was on the condition that I stuck with the other girls playing with their dolls nearby. If I came within his sight during the game, Kevin would raise such a stink that Mom would make me go inside again. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Kevin taught me how to fish, how to climb a tree, we went digging through the dirt and I had a cap gun. So, why was baseball off limits, I asked Mom. She would say that my brother needed time to savor his boyhood and I had no clue what she meant by that.
Kevin was ten and I was seven the summer I broke housing project tradition and participated in the sacred boy’s game. The time had come for the boys to gather together for baseball. That day, they happened to be short a player. “What about Bobby?” Kevin asked his friend, Stuart.
“Bobby’s sick,” Stuart replied, “He’s got the chicken pox.”
“What about Stevie, then?” Kevin remarked, “He’s lousy at it, but it’s better than cancelling the game.”
Stuart shook his head and replied, “Stevie’s gone with his family visiting relatives.”
They ran out of ideas. There was a long pause. “I’ll play,” I offered.
Kevin reacted with horror. “Oh, no you won’t!” he protested, “Boys only. No girls!”
“Aww, c’mon,” said Stuart, “Let her play this one time.”
Kevin crossed his arms and declared, “She don’t even know how to play!”
“Do so!” I said, “I seen it on T.V.” Kevin took off his baseball cap and threw it on the ground out of frustration. Then he sighed, scratched his chin, stomped his foot and crossed his arms again.
Stuart looked me in the eye and went down to business. “Okay,” he told me, “We’re gonna run through this one time just to be sure you know the game. Listen up.” I was going to be the batter. I had three chances to hit the ball. If I hit it, then I had to touch the bases before the ball got in the hands of the other team.
“Okay,” I said. Stuart and Kevin gathered the rest of the boys together and we all prepared to start the game. Stuart passed me the bat. It felt heavy. I did some practice swings like I’d seen professional players do on T.V. I wondered if I should spit. The other boys put in their two cents.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me. A girl?”
“She’ll never get it!”
“That’s worse than having Stevie play.”
“This ought to be good!”
The other team was worse. “Prepare to lose, suckers!” they taunted. Fortunately, the project girls got wind that I was playing and gathered to watch. They cheered me on. As excitement coursed through my veins and pressure mounted, I began to regret getting myself into this. I remember thinking, I’m only seven. What did Stuart say about the bases?
Stuart’s voice snapped me out of it, “Quit it, you guys!” He looked me in the eye. “You ready?”
I wanna go home, now, I thought. Should I go home now? I looked at my brother. Kevin sure is mad. The girls kept cheering for me. I gazed at them with their smiling faces, jumping for joy because I was the first girl in the project to play the sacred boys game. I thought, I can’t let them down. No, sir.
“Ready,” I said, and swallowed hard. The pitcher threw me a fast ball. I missed. They were boos from the other team. My teammates winced and fidgeted. My brother looked like he couldn’t stand it. “I told ya she don’t know how to play!” he shouted.
“She gets three chances to hit the ball,” said Stuart, “Shut up, will ya?”
The pitcher wound his arm up like a clock. He threw the ball again and once more, I swung in vain. More boos from the other team. I thought, Maybe I’m too small. All this pressure was about to kill me. By now, I just wanted to get it over with. Oh, the heck with it, I thought, I just want to get outta here.
Suddenly, I began to relax and just went with my gut. When that ball came at me again, low and behold, I hit it. It went flying a long ways, a lot farther than I ever dreamed. “I don’t believe it!” someone said. Neither did I. I stood motionless in the golden moment, until I heard my brother’s voice.
“Don’t just stand there, run!” he shouted. I bolted, heading for the bases. The boys had put flattened cardboard boxes where the bases were supposed to be. I ran to one of the cardboard boxes and declared victory.
My brother winced. “No, no, no! That’s third base. You can’t go to third base first!” Stuart and Kevin started frantically pointing to first base, but I got so confused I ended up on second. Meanwhile, the other team took possession of the ball. We didn’t win, but I was glad when the game was over.
“Wanna play again, next time?” Stuart offered, “You hit the ball pretty good.”
My brother went into his foot stomping and litany of reasons why I shouldn’t. But I wasn’t mad at him. Suddenly, I got it. I got why he acted as if he was my worst enemy when I played the game. Looking after a little sister all the time was a big responsibility and the only place he was free of that responsibility was on the baseball field. I realized my brother did a lot of things for me. He deserved to have freedom from that responsibility from time to time.
Stuart was waiting for an answer. “Nah,” I said, “I’m done. Thanks for letting me play.” Then I joined the girls who had been cheering me on for infiltrating the sacred boy’s game. They were going to play baseball, too. But I never did again because sometimes my brother had to go out in the world without me in order to savor his boyhood in a way that only a boy understands.
Posted by Rosemary Reeves