There it was – “Ebbets Field.”
No, it wasn’t the long-time home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the long-gone relic of baseball seasons past. But, it was a spot that brought back a lot of memories.
A Sunday afternoon drive several weeks ago took my wife, Judy, and me to an area I once called home. There’s really nothing there any longer, just a small area overgrown with weeds so heavy it was impenetrable by the eye – nothing like I remembered it from more than 55 years ago.
I know the old house – a large old farm house with five bedrooms and a little red “outhouse” – burned down decades ago. If any of the other buildings still stand, they’re hidden by weeds that now stand taller than any human.
The lane that once led onto the property is blocked by a steel fence. Posted are signs that read “Private Property” and “No Trespassing.” They seem quite unnecessary, given the heavy growth that would make wading onto the property quite difficult.
Still visible, though, was the “Ebbets Field” centerfield fence, just a wire fence that stretches east from the gate to where the weeds end at a plowed field. The fence was once stretched tautly between upright fence posts, but now sags between posts that lean in one direction or another. Even when my family called the place “home,” no livestock had been held in check by the fence for several years.
Straight north of the fence, perhaps 120 feet distant, stood an old red building, used to house some farm machinery of the day. It was no longer in use, but made an ideal home plate and backstop at “Ebbets Field.”
Only two players ever played there. One, my younger brother, was always the visiting team. I, being the older, was always the Brooklyn Dodgers. Often my brother would announce himself as the New York Yankees. Other times he’d be the Milwaukee Braves or St. Louis Cardinals.
In those days – I was 13 or 14 and my brother two years younger – it wasn’t practical for the two of us to ride bikes into Alleman to play with the few friends who lived there. It was more often easier for the two of us to find activities at home. One of our favorites was Major League role playing.
And, so it was that the Dodgers and Yankees gathered at the field for a game of baseball, at least a game that two could play. It was quite similar to the home run derby that’s held the eve before the Major League All-Star game each year. But, to us it was a real game. If you hit the ball over the fence into the near ditch it was a single, onto the road it was a double, in the far ditch it was a triple and over the road and into the neighbor’s field, it was a home run.
Anything that didn’t reach the fence was an out.
We took the game seriously. One by one we’d go through the batting order, batting from the right side or the left side depending on what fictitious player was batting. My brother would bat from the right side for Phil Rizzuto and Gil McDougald, for instance, but would switch to the left side for guys like Yogi Berra and Joe Collins. When a switch-hitter batted, like Mickey Mantle, he had to bat left-handed since I was a right-hand pitcher.
Almost always, I’d be Don Newcombe, my favorite of all Dodger pitchers. At times, though, I’d be Carl Erskine, another top Dodger pitcher. My brother would be Don Larsen for the Yankees.
My brother has been gone nearly 14 years now, but on that recent leisurely afternoon drive, he came very much alive again.
The farm is gone, overgrown with weeds. Fortunately, enough of “Ebbets Field” remains that I can re-live some wonderful times with my brother.
On that recent trip, I could almost hear the umpire yell, “Play Ball,” followed by the words from a fictitious Red Barber.
“Leading off against the Dodgers’ big right-hander Don Newcombe is the Yankee Scooter, shortstop Phil Rizzuto …”