Memories of the “Stadium”

No–it wasn’t Shea, the old Yankee one, or even Three Rivers.  It was our wiffle ball venue as kids back in the 70’s–my next-door neighbor’s backyard serving as our nightly “home field” during those warm spring/summer days of yesteryear.  Yes–we called it “The Stadium.”  We’d meet there after dinner EVERY night (I’ll admit to eating much too quickly on occasion in order to get there first)–unless a downpour caused streams of water to be flowing down this uneven stretch of real estate that ran slightly downhill.  Picture this layout:  an unmovable rock serving as home plate–located just a few feet in front of some overgrown forsythia that would prevent balls which were fouled straight back from going into another neighbor’s yard.  First base was simply the front, right edge of a patio just a few feet from the entrance to Al’s house; if Al’s younger sister was riding her “Big Wheel” there during any game, she’d be keenly aware of any batted balls stroked in her direction.  Second base was ANOTHER rock–slightly larger than “home rock”–located about 30 feet from the outfield fence.  Third base?  A GARBAGE can that stood near a dilapidated, rusting shed on the edge of an overgrown grass area–serving as the boundary line of yet another neighbor’s property; one didn’t STEP on third when he arrived there as a simple touch of the receptacle would suffice.  And stuck in the very MIDDLE of our treasured “ballpark”?  None other than an above-ground swimming pool–so-often the collection area of batted balls that would simply not count and be replayed.  The pitcher stood in front of the pool as there was no pitching rubber per se; I believe the unwritten rule was that if you could touch the pool from where you pitched–about 20-25 feet from the batter–you were “legal.”

Yes, we all adored our “stadium,” too.  Any misplaced toys were frowned upon and floating wrappers of any kind were always immediately placed in the nearby “third base receptacle.”  I also recall the fresh smell of grass soon after Al’s Dad had finished mowing our field; that would make the base paths–having been formed simply by our constant playing–show up even better.  And that outfield fence?  It had brown posts with gnarly wire intertwined throughout.  And I remember one day a few of us actually measuring its distance from home plate–with the right field “wall” being the shortest poke; it was just a few strides from the aforementioned patio.  To this day, I’m not sure why we didn’t display the # of feet from home plate ON the fence itself; all I can surmise is that we didn’t have the tools/materials needed at our disposal.

Ah–and the games themselves (which–during school/summer vacation–usually followed an afternoon that had already included shagging fly balls for a couple of hours at the O’Brien Tech field down the street).  There were the regulars who participated:  Al, Joe, Tom, Jim, Steve, and myself.  Al’s older brother–another Steve–would be “iffy”; if we needed an extra player–and he wasn’t busy playing his LP’s or 45’s indoors–he’d give us a few innings here and there.  Equipment?  We usually used the famed Wiffle-brand balls manufactured at the local plant in nearby Shelton–along with the accompanying yellow plastic bats.  Often, we’d switch over to plastic balls with seams and NO holes–which would travel much farther but also become DENTED after any solid contact.  I recall Jim and I winding black electrical tape around the handles of the bats to give them nothing more than a streamlined, professional look.  And we’d all be sure to wear the hat or helmet of our favorite teams at the time, i.e. Al–the Tigers, Jim–the Dodgers, yours truly–the S.F. Giants.  To this day, I remember the ‘shiny-ness’ of those plastic helmets, too–yeah, just like the ones the big-leaguers playing on TV were wearing.

We played until it got dark; the spotlight above the patio was futile in its attempt to provide us enough light to play past 9:00 PM.  It was usually the older guys vs. the younger guys–no choosing sides, no bickering.  And I recall another unwritten rule we had:  no FIRING the ball on the part of the hurler, but no lobbing it, either–just a consistent, fair speed that we were all comfortable with.  Wow–what a feeling when one cleared the fence with a “backyard blast.”  For some reason, I never remember anyone in the field complaining when having to retrieve one hit into my yard or even one landing on an adjacent property–one dotted with HUGE trees along the leftfield line.  We really didn’t care about the score; we simply played until no one could SEE the ball anymore.  Personally, I recall always being disappointed when darkness took over–but also taking joy in the fact that there ALWAYS was a game scheduled the following night at “The Stadium.”

We’d all then pile into a car driven by one of the older guys–our destination being the Hardee’s Restaurant on Route 34.  Large sodas were always in order for about a half-dozen thirsty kids who had surely experienced their collective dose of baseball for the day–although tomorrow STILL couldn’t arrive fast enough.  Funny–the remnants of “The Stadium” are still located on a street known as Bruns Rd.; however, as an adult, it has now shifted to a place fondly known as Memory Lane.  Luckily, memories can never be torn down or fade away; they just continue to bring joy.

About the Author

Bob Lazzari

Bob Lazzari is an award-winning sports columnist for both Connecticut's Valley Times and NY Sports Day--where his "Sports Roundup" column is featured weekly. He is a member of the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance and host of "Monday Night Sports Talk" --a cable television show on CTV/Channel14 in Connecticut. A Fordham grad, Bob is a regular contributor to ESPN Radio's "Inside Yankee Baseball"; he can also be heard weekly every Tuesday morning on WXLM/104.7 FM in New London, CT. He has a popular blog where many of his past columns have been archived.

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