Remember when snow was still around in grimy shrinking mounds, crocus and other bulbs popped their heads through the dormant soil and the ground felt like mush when you walked on it? That’s when the kids in my neighborhood went to the basement and got their baseball gloves and balls out of winter hibernation, because we knew spring was finally here.
Sure, the air was still nippy but had lost its sting. And, when the sun made an appearance, Mother Nature confirmed what we already knew: it was time to play ball. I’ll never forget the ritual, learned from older brothers and dads, which took place as we got ready for the unofficial baseball season that lasted for more than six months even in a cold-weather city like Philadelphia.
Before putting the glove(s) away for the winter, we placed a ball in the pocket of the glove and wrapped it with cloth. This was done to assure the glove maintained its shape. The first thing we did after taking a glove out of safe keeping was to open a can of linseed oil and slowly rub the oil into the leather to make it as supple as possible. This exercise was repeated several times during the season.
Next, we went to our stash of baseballs. I kept mine in a couple of shoe boxes. One had the old balls. These had lost their stitches and covers. So we taped them with quarter-inch adhesive tape, which left a bump at both poles causing the ball to take funny turns.
Taped balls were used to play catch in the cement driveway or the asphalt street. We didn’t care if the ball got serious scuff marks, we just re-taped it. The used balls, with covers intact, were reserved for use on the playing field but only for practice. New balls remained in individual boxes, wrapped in tissue paper and ready for a game.
Bats were a different animal. As we grew longer bats were needed. As we gained strength heavier bats came into play. Those who played PAL (Police Athletic League) ball or with other team had to wait for the coach to tell us what we would be swinging once the organized teams started playing a couple of months down the line. So, we oiled up the old bats – all bats were wood back then – and used them until that time came.
The other equipment was important, too. Hats had been blocked a placed on a closet shelf. If our hat size changed over the winter, we made sure that a new cap was ready. There were no adjustable hats in those days, so size mattered. Finally, spikes (baseball shoes), had to be checked for size, as did uniforms.
Knowing we had everything in order, the boys of that era looked forward to hours of fun playing what was then America’s pastime. Today, many boys as well as girls will be doing what we did those many years ago and waiting for the cry we love to hear every year about this time, “Play ball.”