Digging out the gear

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2001

The last ball has been tossed to the basket, and the weather is, for the most part changing for the better.

Although there has been a relapse of cooler temperatures during the past few days, when I come home at night I see signs of spring.

First, those familiar lights over the fields of Beeland Park are on, and that is good, because it means, before you know it, the crowds will be clamoring back to the gathering next to the concession stands.

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It also becomes apparent to me that baseball is here when that familiar net bag containing balls, bats and gloves is left near the doorway for convenience.

But you know, it is moved away from the walkway, and in a chair, so it causes no one an inconvenience, but rather reminds me that our children still have interests in clean, honest-to-goodness sports.

Reminds me of the most trouble I ever got into as a kid.

The elementary school I attended from kindergarten through the sixth grade was a mere five blocks from home (all the elementary schools, eight of them in my town, were named for poets and writers).

Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary No. Five was built back in the early 1930's, and its walls were made of solid bricks (probably cut by hand, before machinery was designed to do the same).

Anyway, at the back of the building was the playground, with its black-topped basketball courts and hopscotch boards painted on its surface, and the walls had backstops for stickball (a variation of baseball, played with a tennis ball and broom handle) spray painted on them.

But there was only one problem. If an overzealous pitcher was trying to throw the batter out, the ball might well go over the building, rolling down the inner roof and into one of the two courtyards inside the building.

This was no major trouble for me and my friends, because we had no fear, and would climb the rough-cut bricks of the wall (the old-fashioned kind would extend outward like pegs at just the right distance to step and grab on, like ladder steps), virtually scaling it.

The tar-covered roof was no problem, unless it was late in the evening, after a long summer's day of sunlight had made it soft, and then it would stick to your tennis shoes.

Once on top of the roof, when you got to the courtyard, there were cast iron pipes extending down from the copper gutters, and you could "shinny" down, fill your pockets with tennis balls, and back up you went.

One afternoon, though, there had been no one that would go after the tennis balls.

Being the fearless daredevil, I volunteered and set right out to accomplish the task.

There were no problems, and I had taken a burlap bag (sometimes called a "croaker sack"), and as I recall, there were some 20 tennis balls, and even a couple of hard baseballs there.

Climbing back down the bricks (I had always heard you don't get dizzy from heights if you don't look down), I was just about to reach the bottom, when I felt something grab me by the back of my collar and my belt, pulling me to the ground and setting me on my feet.

It was the school principal, Mr. Hopper, and I just knew that my goose was cooked.

He told me (in a very stern fashion) that I was not supposed to be up there, and then he took my sack of treasure with him into the building.

He never spoke about it again, and the last time I said anything about it was to tell my friends that the gutter pipes were broken, and I couldn't get to the courtyard.

We did get to use the tennis balls again though, everyday during gym class.

Until next week, if you look for me, you will find me way out in "Deep Left Field."