Long before there were video games or paint-ball guns, my buddy Gale and I developed a game of our own called inner-tube baseball. It was an offshoot of Whiffle ball after our last plastic ball either caved in from overuse or got belted into the neighbor’s blackberries.
All you needed for inner-tube baseball was a wood bat and an inner tube like any of the ones we all used to float down the Pilchuck River in the summers of our youth. But the game was unique in that you could only play it in my backyard, because of the ground rules.
Pitching and hitting was simple. You rolled the inner tube toward the batter, and he smacked it with the bat. Any tube rolling past the pitcher was a single. Past the pitcher in the air was a double. Past the pitcher and over my dog Muttsy’s elevated drag wire was a home run. The drag wire ran half the length of our backyard, six to seven feet off the ground, between the garage and the catalpa tree, just this side of the clothesline. The foul lines ran from home plate to the grape arbor in left field and from home to the corner of the chicken coop in right. Home plate to the drag wire was maybe 25 feet. There were also two fielding hazards to consider: 1) a raised water spigot roughly 12 inches high in right-center, and 2) Muttsy getting excited by any passing person or animal and racing blindly across the field, pulling his chain along the drag wire and head-smacking anyone in the way.
There was no baserunning in inner-tube baseball. Every swing was either a hit or an out. Any tube snagged in the air was an out, whether it cleared the drag wire or not, and anything smothered before getting past the pitcher was also an out. Two tubes hit foul or any tube that happened to strike Muttsy, fair or foul, also constituted an out.
And, as a carryover from plastic baseball, you had to announce who you were before every at-bat: Mantle . . . Mays . . . Maris . . . Yastrzemski . . . Frank or Brooks Robinson . . . Clemente . . . Kaline . . . Aaron . . . Alou (any of the three) . . . Frank Howard . . . Boog Powell . . . Tony Oliva. Gale favored the Giants and the Orioles, while I liked the Yankees and Twins. Gale’s dad once duck-hunted with Harmon Killebrew, so that made him a dual favorite in my yard.
It was mostly a game of strength, as you had to hit it well to clear the drag wire. Anything popped up was caught, so you had to hit liners or launch like Willie McCovey. Grounders down either line had a chance to get through, but anything up the middle on the ground was an easy out.
Being stronger, Gale had the upper hand from the start. Then my big brother Skip waded in to challenge the winner and he dominated.
“Way to go, dumbass,” he taunted me, “inventing a game that you can’t beat anyone at!”
That eventually spelled the end for inner-tube baseball. That and the drag wire getting broken or pulled down so many times that it no longer functioned as a measuring rod or a dog restraint.
Still, it was fun while it lasted. Even if I never beat anyone.