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.
10 responses to “Inner-Tube Baseball”
You brought back the memories of American Bat Ball. Home base was a man hole cover and we ran to the for sale sign in the Armstrongs yard. I don’t know to this day if they ever sold that place.
I’ll bet a lot of kids played some goofy variation of baseball or stick ball. Making up your own unique rules is what made it work and what made it memorable.
I’m picturing it too. You know you have a book here, Keith- you and Gale (and maybe monsters… for some reason I’m getting a Stephen King vibe too, something ominous just out of sight… or over the bridge down in the valley where I used to live).
Every memory of Gale is good for me. He’ll always be an inspiration and probably visible in much of my work.
Never a dull moment back when, and if you didn’t trash the tube, you could go to the river and float it!
Inner tubes had a much longer life than plastic baseballs. Probably live longer in the landfills, too.
I can see you doing this LOL!!!
We were easily entertained as kids. We played with whatever was around. If we didn’t have it, we’d try to make it.
So Much This.
From kick the can or hide-n-seek games that started at dusk, to crunching down the weeds in the empty lot across the street to make hallways and rooms for our fort – we were always outside. There was not much inside to keep us entertained.
My best friend and I turned an unused and dilapidated railroad trestle into the star-ship enterprise. I built a 10-speed from jumk parts because my parents could not afford a new one. This was the best thing ever because a learned an awful lot about bikes and how to fix them.
All the kids on the street would play “guns,” and it involved multiple yards, even some yards of families who did not have children.
No one called the cops, no children were tazed or shot because they had a “weapon”. No neighbors freaked because a kid was in their yard; and no concerned neighbors talked with your parents about allowing their kids to pretend shoot another kid.
It’s a shame my own kids will never experience that kind of fun.
I once put nails in my big brother’s baseball bat for handles on a makeshift bazooka! Never did live that one down. Even as adults he’d remind me what a dickhead move that was. Yes, we played kick-the-can in our neighborhood, too. One kid put a steering wheel on his bike in place of handlebars. Also remember putting playing cards in the spokes to get motorcycle noises. Also, used to see how many individuals we could get riding on one bike; don’t think we ever got six, but I’m sure we got five with one on the handlebar, one on the body bar, the rider standing on the pedals, one more passenger sitting on the seat and a fifth on the back fender.