One of my favorite things growing up was backyard sports. It remains one of my favorite things today, as I have three sons to carry forward the legacy.
My childhood was idyllic in many ways. We were fortunate to have a giant backyard that acted as a baseball diamond, basketball court, football field, and much more. I spent countless hours out back with my two older brothers. We challenged each other to one on one, developed an entire playbook for football and practiced the plays for hours on end, played wiffle ball, then baseball with a tennis ball (those were too often and too soon lost over fences.
It was my own Field of Dreams. I re-enacted Danny Ainge’s coast to coast drive to beat Notre Dame and go to the Final Four in 1981 over and over again on my backyard court (it was quite small, actually, it probably wouldn’t be large enough today to include the college 3 point line except maybe in the corners. So, it required quite a bit of imagination to go “full court” in my re-enactments!) I bounced a tennis ball and baseball off the brick wall and back to me to practice my glove work and fielding skills. I imagined every possible scenario with me at the plate. You know...full count, 2 outs, bottom of the ninth, 7th game of the World Series...and here comes the pitch.
One of my favorite memories is playing what my brothers and I called “Kickoff”. My two brothers would go to one end of our ‘field’ and throw the ball high in the air to simulate a kickoff. I stood at the other end to catch the ball and attempt to return it for a touchdown. My brothers would run (on a slight downhill) and tackle me. I loved that my two older brothers would include me in their games. As I look back on it now, I guess I took some punishment during this game. But, my brothers were nothing if not smart, they occasionally ‘allowed’ me to score so I wouldn’t become discouraged at all the hits I was physically absorbing and all the failure to score I was mentally absorbing.
During one such football game, I was forced out of bounds (in our case, ‘out of bounds’ was a group of scrub oak trees) and caught my arm on a branch. Somehow, the branch ripped a big chunk of my forearm clean out. The branch seemed to be holding my flesh like a fondue fork ready to go into the pot. A trip to the ER and a few stitches and I was good as new. I still look at that scar with fondness.
Oftentimes, our games ended in tears, fights, bloodshed, or a combination of all of these. It was then, that our sliding door would open and my mom would call out to us, “Okay boys, time to come in...”
Today, with three boys, we have our own ritual. After the two older boys get home from school and complete their homework, we head out into our own Field of Dreams. The backyard is much smaller, but still just as good. My boys’ sports of choice at the moment are soccer, football, and hockey. We divide into teams and go ahead with some (mostly) friendly competition. I watch as my two oldest boys include their younger brother in the games and it takes me back to when I was that younger brother. They usually put him in the goal, I think to mostly have the little guy out of the way, but it turns out that over time my youngest has become quite good that important position. And he is happy and content to just be included in the games.
I am fortunate to be home and able to play in these games with them (Although, I am pretty much a liability nowadays!). Everybody wants to be on dad’s team. Except for my oldest, who is getting to the age where he wants to pit his skills against me rather than play on my team. My second son always carefully keeps score - he is the most competitive of them all. We run and pass and tackle and kick and shoot and score. And all the while, there is something that happens to us, Our Siders, in the backyard.
Backyard Sports are for bonding, building, and strengthening. Memories are forged. Bonds are built. Brotherhood is strengthened. And now, it’s not just brotherhood...little baby sister sometimes wanders onto the Field of Dreams and wants in on the action. But, mostly what she wants in on is the bonding and togetherness that only comes in this unique and (for me) nostalgic way. All too soon, we hear those familiar words...
“Okay boys, time to come in...”