During bad weather, or when the Washington Senator's game was broadcast on the radio, I often played an indoor baseball game in our basement. My toy soldiers, cowboys, Indians became baseball players on a baseball field I created with wooden blocks as walls. My soldiers stood in positions around the “field.” Using a small nut and screw for a ball, I took a soldier in my right hand and threw the “ball” up with my left hand while lying on the floor at the home plate. The soldier’s body became a bat I swung with my right hand. A soldier’s head hit the ball the longest. The defensive players made outs when the “ball” touched them.
(Griffith Park Stadium Washington. D.C. 1951)
My games usually featured the Washington Senators against the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, or Tigers. When a hit “ball” went over the fence it was a home run. Off the fence counted as a double unless it hit center field fence; that was a triple. Balls that went through the infield without touching a player were singles as were those that flew over the infielders and dropped in front of, or went by, the outfielders. If the ball traveled on the ground to the fence, it was a double unless the runner had great speed. It was a triple if I thought he could make it based on their speed on a baseball card.
(Washington Senator Baseball Cards)
Often when playing my “soldier baseball” game I turned on the radio to hear Senators’ announcer in 1950, Arch McDonald describe the action. He had a deep and kind voice that boomed with excitement and knew all the players, their stats, and baseball history. Using a sound like a ball hitting a bat when the player hit a pitch, followed by ringing a bell, he indicated hits. One bell meant a single, two a double, three a triple, and four a home run. I waited in suspense for the bells: “Here comes the pitch to Irv Noren. CRRACK ...ding...ding...ding...ding. There it goes over the right field wall and into the night for a home run, Noren’s 14th of the year, winning the game 4 to 3 in a walk-off finish.” It was fun using my soldiers as the players in the Senator’s game as if I were there watching the action.
(Irv Noren was my favorite player)
I devised a game called “step ball” that taught me how to field any ball and throw it accurately. Variations of the game exist because each house called for different rules. Our house lay ten feet above the street on a raised lawn with concrete stairway from the front door to the street. One day I threw a tennis ball against one of the ten concrete steps. It bounced back to me just like a ground ball. Using chalk lines on the street to designate a single, double, and triple, made the game more realistic. If the ball traveled over my head to the other side of the street, it was a home run. If I threw the ball to strike the corner of a step, it sent the ball the furthest.
Neighborhood friends of all ages challenged me in “step ball.” We often played two against two. Catching a ball in the air made an out, as did fielding a ground ball unless it landed beyond the chalk marks for a hit. We used baseball gloves to increase our chance to make a spectacular catch. Step ball improved my fielding and pitching ability and provided many intense games that were fun and never cost a penny.