Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Little Girl’s Sleep Was Ruined Whenever Nerf Baseball Was The Game

Danielle is probably pushing 40 by now. Perhaps married, with children. That is, if she was able to get enough sleep in order to grow up to be a healthy woman.

My apologies once more to Mr. Makowski and for waking his daughter up at all hours of the night. But the Nerf ball and plastic bat were just too intoxicating. Cut me a little slack, huh?

Or maybe it was the tennis ball, pounding away against the curb that would bring Mr. Makowski out, flashing the “time out” sign with his hands, forming the “T” that you typically see coaches use during basketball games.

Mr. Makowski – Gary, if you must know – was our next door neighbor as I breezed through childhood mostly unscarred in Livonia in the 1970s. His daughter, Danielle (they called her Dani, I recall) had the misfortune of sleeping on the side of the house facing ours. She was maybe six, seven years old at the time.

My friend Steve Hall and I developed this nifty little game using a Nerf ball and a plastic bat – and my driveway. We’d each assume a big league team, complete with lineups. The key to the fun was to also use the same batting stances as all the players used in real life – even if they batted left-handed. The driveway was conveniently divvied up into sections, thanks to the way the concrete had been poured and divided. So it was natural: all balls must go at least as far as the first divider to be considered fair. On the garage roof: home run. Off the garage wall on the fly: triple. Off the garage wall on the bounce: double. Any other ball bobbled and not fielded cleanly: single.

You doubled as batter and fielder, actually – for when a batted ball was fielded cleanly, you had to toss the bat aside and be ready for the ensuing throw. And we’d come to mutual, gentlemanly decisions as to whether the imaginary batter or base runner was safe or out, based on the sequence of events.

The garage roof was just far enough away from the “batter’s box” to need a good poke to reach it for a four-bagger. And a batted Nerf ball could travel at a fast enough speed to get by you occasionally for those extra base hits.

And you’d be amazed at what you can do to a Nerf ball whilst pitching it.

We had three or four pitches – just like the real-life hurlers. There was the straight fastball, of course. First and second fingers gripping the ball – which was about the size of a grapefruit, by the way – and chucked straight and as fast as you could throw it. Nothing fancy, just raw strength. Joel Zumaya type stuff.

We had a curve, too. Same grip, but with the arm extended further to the right (we were both righties) and the ball released in a more sweeping motion – the wrist flicked at just the right moment, right before the release. That, believe it or not, actually produced a curve effect. And you could strike a guy out who was over eager, because the curve was about half the speed of a fastball.

There was a knuckleball – honest. The grip: thumb at the bottom of the ball, the knuckles digging into the Nerf. The release: PUSH the ball toward the plate rather than throw it, creating that knuckleball flutter. I’m telling you, it was some scientific stuff.

Maybe we’d fool around with a knuckle-curve, or a bastardized slider. You had to have some good stuff, because the offense was explosive. No lead was safe. Not when you’re clubbing at fat Nerf balls with a whip-like plastic bat.

This was the size ball we used

We didn’t have the advantage of a large Jumbo-Tron scoreboard, so it was up to us to summarize the game situation. Usually it was the pitcher’s responsibility.

“OK...second and third, two of the fifth...I’m leading, 4-2,” the pitcher would say as he rocked back in his windup.

But oh, how we screwed up poor little Dani’s sleeping regimen.

We couldn’t get enough of Nerf baseball during the day, so we’d often carry on after nightfall. A flick of a switch in the kitchen, and the harsh beam of an outdoor light near the garage would be enough to illuminate the driveway so we could have a passable game.

But no matter how hard we tried to be quiet – and I swear we gave it our best shot – it was inevitable: Mr. Makowski would come outside, exiting his front door and padding over to the driveway. But he wasn’t mad. In fact, it was almost like a game: let’s see how long we can play before Makowski comes out, flashing the time out sign. Often he was grinning, knowingly. And we would plead no contest, apologize, and that was the end of the action. Until the next time. Occasionally we’d make a half-hearted effort to tell him that, hey, there was NO WAY we were too loud. But Mr. Makowski’s word was as final as Judge Roy Bean’s, boy. He was judge, jury, and terminator of Nerf fun.

When Nerf baseball was tiresome, we’d shift the action to the curb.

Curb Ball was the game. Two people. One tennis ball. The “batter” slams the ball against the street’s curb, trying to find the right angle, depending on whether he wanted to produce a ground ball, line drive, or fly ball. The ball would fly into the air, or roll along the ground, and the defender’s job was to either catch it, or keep it from hitting the opposite curb or worse: landing on the grass beyond the opposite curb. You guessed it: that was a home run.

Mr. Makowski caught us playing that, too, on a few occasions.

Who said he could have kids, anyway?

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