NEW RICHLAND-HARTLAND-ELLENDALE-GENEVA AREA

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It’s nice to get feedback, so I was thrilled to have a reader write back to tell me what I didn't know about sandlot baseball. Here’s what I learned:

Like the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, the rules were made up as you went along. 

There was usually no catcher - the batter retrieved the ball and threw it back to the pitcher. To eliminate squabbling, there were no called strikes - just “swing and a miss.” With only two on a side, if one batter hit a single, the other batter didn't drive him home, they simply switched runners on the bases so the first hitter could hit again. On defense, the pitcher played the infield, and there was only one outfielder. Home runs were adjudicated by artificial boundaries - sometimes set by stones, a jacket, or a lunch sack. The “10-run rule" applied: if one team got ahead by 10 runs, that was the end of the game. If time allowed, a doubleheader was played – but the star of the winning team had to switch sides to even out the obvious imbalance of talent.

Choosing sides or "first up" was done by the time-honored practice of throwing a bat up in the air, and the other side catching it. The non-catcher side then took a grip directly above the first - then the other side took a grip - alternating until they came to the end. Invariably, only a short section if bat was left, called "chicken claws,” the player that claimed control of the bat usually had to grasp the knob end from above - hence the name. Did he have control of the bat? The opposing team had one chance to kick the bat out of his hands - if they succeeded, they had the next pick, or "first up.”

A lot can be learned from sandlot baseball: organization of your own activity (as against having it provided for you), division of authority and labor, rules that fit the situation instead of theory, "dispute settlement," and a chance for everyone to be a star. To be sure, it isn't like today, when there are no winners, or losers, nobody even keeps score, and everyone gets the trophy.

Have you ever wondered, "Where have all the kids gone?" It used to be that small towns were crawling with kids - playing sports, “just palling around” – doing something. Usually activities of their own creation, not something invented for them by adults. There was no Little League - no coaches - not even parents to impress or disappoint - just kids having fun with each other and setting their own rules. They didn't know the term at the time, but they were learning good life lessons (and often making friends for life). They were "interacting.” 

Compare those hot and sweaty kids to those of today, who only experience life vicariously – through pre-arranged sports, non-active games, or "friends" through the Internet - "friends" they may never have met. 

Look around. Even though our small towns have increased in population, you don't see kids on the streets.

In the fall, it was football. Like baseball, there could be as few as two guys on a "team." Since you had to play both offense and defense, there was a minimum of a quarterback/linebacker, and a lineman/wide receiver on each side. The ball was snapped to the quarterback, who either ran with it or passed it to the other guy. On defense, one or both defensemen would rush - or one would rush the passer while the other one covered the receiver.

Fall is also a time for hunting. Kids hunted together, or by themselves, but a special treat was to be allowed to go hunting with Dad and his friends.

In the winter, sledding was the sport. Very few people skied. (Maybe it had something to do with the leather bindings and the home-made skis.) Kids trudged together out to the sliding hill, the little kids terrified of the long, steep drop. There were no goose-down or fiberfill jackets in those days; just a stocking cap, mittens, a wool jacket, and four-buckle overshoes. Blue jeans got wet - frozen stiff, and they were cold - but the "long-Johns" saved the day. If the snow was thin, or packed, the Flexible Flyer was the sled of choice. If the snow was loose, the wooden toboggan was best. Plastic sleds and "saucers?" They didn't come along until years later.

It was a long slog out to the hill, then to climb to the top but the exhilarating 20-second ride down the hill was worth it! Not to mention the bragging rights for having the daring to do so! 

Once in a while, adults (anyone over 20) could go sledding, but it was almost always just a kid thing. There was no worry about collisions, hitting the barbed wire fence at the end, falling off the sled at breakneck speed, or broken tailbones from sitting on the half inch of toboggan between you and the ground. How often do you see kids sledding on their own today? 

Springtime meant kids and water: Digging a ditch to drain puddles – or damming up a puddle to make it ever bigger to splash in. Fishing in a "stream" that nobody has ever seen a fish in. Throwing sticks ("boats") in the pond. Seeing who could make the biggest splash the furthest from shore with a stone. Getting the bikes out (though they were often ridden all winter through the snow).

You may have seen government Public Service announcements about “getting kids to move - to play.” We don’t need government initiatives. We just need to let kids be kids. 

Take away the electronic games and tell them to go outside and play. Yes, they’ll get bumps, bruises, and scrapes, but they’ll also learn to interact with people, to organize activities on their own, to interact with people face-to-face instead of electronically, to develop friendships - and yes, to know the consequences of acting imprudently. It’s part of child development, and years later, they’ll have stories to tell - and friends to relate those stories to – “Remember that time we...” It is far better than the sad recollection “I was playing a video game, and I got to level two!” Get kids outside!

Kids see life differently than adults. Small kids often play with boxes instead of the gift. Cardboard boxes can be transformed into all kinds of vehicles. Blankets on clotheslines become tents and forts. Any game can have the rules changed to fit the situation. Only kids could see the fun of throwing a ball over the house, being "it,” or racing each other to exhaustion - no adult supervision required. All you need is a "best friend" to do it with - and if you could come up with the one for a bottle of pop to share, it was even better. Ever get the idea that kids might be overly "sanitized" and protected? Adults might not like both kids drinking out of the same bottle, but as every kid knows, "Friends don't have cooties!” 

Sometimes, I think we do too much for our kids - for most of us, our mothers would say, "Go play outside - come home when it gets dark. I’ll turn the porch light on." We always found something to amuse ourselves.

Some of our Star Eagle readers have commented they like to read about events such as family and school reunions, birthdays and anniversaries, and birth and wedding announcements. In order to read about these important things we need our faithful readers to pass along the information to us. Also if you have an idea for a story that you think would be of interest to our readers, please contact me.

If you have birthdays and anniversaries you would like include, or news to share please contact me via e-mail, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; by postal mail, P. O. Box 192, Geneva, MN 56035 or telephone, 507-256-4405.

Birthdays and anniversaries:

• Thursday, October 9: Matt Kubiatowicz, Joshua Kasper, Cheryl Paulsen Wilson, Randy Mucha, Nancy Jo Anderson, Ashley Hove, Keith Neidermeier, Dennis Blouin

• Friday, October 10: Pat Goodnature, Trevin Stollard, Aarin Gray Pirsig, his 2nd; Eric Anderson, Nicole Anderson Loken, Luverne Hamor, Haley Hanson, LeRoy Ingvaldson, Nicole Lonning, Betty DeRaad, Elena Grace Spande

• Saturday, October 11: Alisha Moody, Reed Michael Kath, Mitchell Edwards, Ebonie Mullenmaster, Earl Klinger, Mayro Leak Kubista, Melissa Otto, Jenna Swearingen, Mike Trumble, Cory McGrath, Shawna Besco, John Cyr, Alisha Moody, Lee and Jody Loverink

• Sunday, October 12: Katilyn Olivia Crabtree, Les Shawback Jr., Christopher Wallace, Beth Spande, Marilyn Dobberstein, Terrie Mullenmaster, Maurice Mullenmaster, Vikki Pence, Roxann Ditlevson, Lewis Kelly, Denise Jensen Bronner, Charlie and Becky Phagan, Larry and Terry Jensen, Vera and Todd Fitterer

• Monday, October 13: Hunter Stephen Knutson, his 9th; Journey Lynn Utpadel, Courtney Ann Deml, Otto Nels Oquist, Mitchell Wallace, Jackie Flor, Rita Thompson, Suzanne Peterson, Becky Wallace, Mikkel and Jennifer Iverson

• Tuesday, October 14: Jim Lutgens, Reece Alexander, Chris Ritz, Janet Goette, Dan Hanson, Breanna and Tim Briedenbach, Delana and Daniel Routh

• Wednesday, October 15: Barb Kuckebecker, Madison Lynn Homuth, Corbin Brocker, Colin Matthew Felt Farr, Tony Anderson, Sandy Jensen, Ed Ver Hey, Leroy and Garnet Folie, Heidi and Tim Schaefer

May every day in the year ahead bring you something to enjoy!

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