I have many fond memories of the time I spent playing outside growing up. Not everyone gets the opportunity to have an area to play outside. Some kids grow up in the slums or in an apartment in the city with basically no yard. Other kids spend their formative years on a giant 100 acre farm running through corn mazes and biking through the woods, but we’re not going to talk about them. My backyard is sloped and makes for good sledding after a decent snow, which we currently get about once every 3 years in eastern Tennessee. BUT, once upon a time many years ago, we had what is commonly referred to as The Blizzard of 93. My hometown got hit with 18 inches of snow with drifts of over 2 feet. 2 feet is a lot of snow for a town that closes down schools every time there are flurries. To tell the truth, sometimes schools close down here due to the threat of snow! Oh no, it’s raining and could turn into flurries! Let’s close the schools! Someone 35 miles away just caught a snowflake on their tongue, let’s shutdown for the day! What’s that? It’s snowing in Boise, Idaho? We better send the kids home so they don’t get caught in a possible storm.
At the time of the blizzard, I was eight years old and loved playing in the snow. One of the first things I did was grab my saucer and slide down my hill. There were two ways to go down. You could either be safe and go down the hill where you wouldn’t hit anything at the bottom, or you could go down the slickest area into a narrow opening between a brick wall and patio bars. Of course, I usually chose the fun way. The frightening/great thing about riding a saucer is that you spin around as you slide across the snow and can’t totally control your aim or see where you’re going. Saucering (Is that a term?) down the hill was a lot of fun, but I won’t say that I always emerged unscathed after a day of sliding on ice.
With so much snow it was only natural that I built some snowmen. At one point, a friend of mine was helping me make snowmen when we had a bright idea. We decided to roll a giant snowball from my house to his place, which was four houses away. It’s amazing how many bright ideas can develop when young boys work together. Anyway, we pushed the snowball until it became too large for us to handle. The giant mound of snow ended up sitting in a neighbor’s yard for a while. the good news was, we were friends with most of our neighbors. Other activities that I participated in during the reign of snow included snowball fights, creating snow tunnels and igloo building. I also ate snowcream, drank hot chocolate and caught an arctic fox with my bare hands.
When giant blizzards weren’t hitting my town, I enjoyed playing games outside. My front yard was flat and ideal for for playing sports like football, whiffleball and kickball. There was also a basketball hoop in the back with an asphalt extension of our driveway that served as a court. Growing up, I was pretty small for my age until my early high school years when I shot up to 5’10”. The advantage of being small was that almost no one thought I would be good at sports. When I was 7 years old I became a
good dominant tee-ball player. If memory serves me correctly, my team went something like 18-3 that year. One of my best friends at the time was on my team and we had a blast playing together. He was fast enough to get 2 or 3 inside the ballpark home runs per game. I wasn’t super fast but I knew where to hit the ball so that I would reach base safely and scored about 4 runs per game. One time I did get a home run due to fielding errors, which were definitely uncommon at the 7 year-old level. I also was involved in a basketball league and eventually my parents had me pick which sport I wanted to keep playing. I chose basketball and still enjoying playing it to this day. If a baseball player hits and reaches base 1 out of every 3 times, he is considered good. In tee-ball, I was hitting about 9 out of 10. I wonder, if I had taken steroids stuck to baseball, would I be an all-star major league player? Some things we’ll never know.
As basketball became my sport of choice, I spent more time shooting hoops outside. I still remember the time when a neighbor came over to play with me and broke the goal. He was trying to look cool by jumping off the brick wall under the post to dunk a ball and ended up bringing down the old backboard a he hung on the rim. Thankfully, he was not hurt worse than Benjamin Linus on LOST. A new goal replaced the broken one a few years later and I develop a good three-point shot over the years. I also would often pretend I was playing in an important game and had to make a last-second shot to win. There were also quite a few games of on-on-one and HORSE played on my court growing up. I eventually became the master of the “jump out from under the patio and throw the ball in off the backboard while you’re still in the air shot” and won almost every game of HORSE.
I won’t say that I only have fond memories of playing football in my yard. My friends always wanted to play tackle and enjoyed crushing me into the ground. There were a few times when I broke their tackles and scored, but I was always better at playing non-contact versions of football such as two-hand touch or flag football. . Whiffleball was definitely one of my favorite things to play outside. We would play with trees and bushes as the bases and my Dad would often act as the all time pitcher. There were special house rules, like hitting into the road or on the roof equaled an out. Since I usually played with just one or two friends at a time, there was also a rule that if the pitcher grabbed the ball and touched the mound before the batter got to first, the batter was out. There was also a ground-rule double if you hit the ball deep into the bushes. I really miss playing whiffleball. Those were fun times.
These days I still shoot hoops outside my house, but the thing I primarily engage in is bird-watching. I enjoy just listening to the birds sing and watching them interact with one another. Growing up my parents enjoyed birding and would take me to find new birds whenever we went on vacation. There may have been a time or two when I was so excited to see a new bird that I thought I saw a species that only lived in Europe. Moving onward, a few days ago I noticed that there was a lot of activity around the apple trees in my backyard. When I brought out my binoculars, I could tell that a bunch of warblers were flitting back and forth. I quickly found a Yellow-rumped Warbler and got excited thinking that perhaps different warblers were migrating through the area. Unfortunately, every single warbler was a Yellow-rumped. I kept muttering out loud “You can’t all be Yellow-rumped Warblers” but alas, I was wrong. I did get to see many other birds including Eastern Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
(Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Pictures from http://www.allaboutbirds.org)
I plan to write a few blogs on backyard birds in the near future so be on the lookout for that. Anyway, it was nice to spend a lot of my childhood playing outdoors instead of being mesmerized by TV and video games all day. My advice to you as the reader is to stay active, have fun and encourage your kids to become professional baseball players if they exhibit potential in tee-ball.