Libby Baker Sweiger

Weaver of Everyday Tales

Hardball with the Boys

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”
― W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe

Choke up on the bat, step into it and swing!

In our big house we had on the west side of the suburb we lived in, the new side, the boys played baseball in the street all summer long. The streets were new and made of cement, so I asked my dad and mom to get me a really thick pair of jeans, because I was going to play. They didn’t question me. I had played with the boys in our last neighborhood too, because I was very active and athletic — a tomboy as they called us in those days. So I informed the boys on the block that I was going to play baseball. “Shoot they said. “You gotta beat up every guy on this team to play with us.” They were pretty confident and laughed a little, because I was small and didn’t appear to have much meat on my bones. What they didn’t know was that I was determined, tough and wiry. So I fought each one of them, wrestled them to the ground and held them down until they said I could play. From then on we were teammates. We played every day of that hot summer in t-shirts and long jeans to protect at least our legs from the cement when sliding into home plate. I played first base because I had a good arm and I was fast — mentally and physically. One thing I wasn’t was a power hitter. I just couldn’t get a could crack at that hard little ball.

Bob Allison from the Minnesota Twins lived on our street and he had two really young boys. We idolized him, but never saw him. Once in a while we saw his pretty wife and their two young boys outside, but never him. Then one day, I was up for bat and pretty as you please he strolled over to the middle of the street, home plate. He asked me how my hitting was going and trying not to drop my jaw, I told him it wasn’t going very well. He said, well that bat is to big for you, you’ve got to choke up on it a bit. And then he showed me how! I was just about to scream I was so excited, but I did just exactly what he said.

Once he felt I had mastered that — by now our whole team was surrounding us at home plate — he had another tip for me. And for some more power, he said, you’ve got to step into it when you swing. He showed me how to take a step forward as I took a swing with my hands raised higher on the bat. Then he had a couple of balls pitched to me. Those guys weren’t going to do me any favors. We were teammates, not friends yet. The pitcher fired in a pitch, STRIKE! The catcher threw it back and he fired in another one. I took a deep breath and blew it out, to a step and swung… CRACK! Impact! That ball soared. Everyone around us jumped back and I ran like lightening. I wanted Mr. Bob Allison to see I was going to take advantage of his handiwork. First base whooosh…. second base whoooosh….third base…whoooosh…and I was on my way home! I slid into home SAFE! All but my jeans, shredded them, but man, the grin on my face! Mr. Bob Allison was looking over his shoulder and nodding from his driveway. It was time for him to go home.

What a great summer day. A legend appeared out of the shadows and taught me how to swing a bat. My teammates and I were suddenly friends. I had earned their respect. I’ll never forget it!

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14 thoughts on “Hardball with the Boys

  1. Denise on said:

    Great experience! I can relate, playmate we all boys/brothers and played baseball, tackle football, etc. I too couldn’t hit that dang ball very far… Wish I had your neighbor next to my house! Thanks for the family story, awesome to meet a legend!

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    • Yes Denise, you know just what I mean then. It was a one summer day none of us will ever forget. It would be like my nephew meeting Kirby Puckett! And playing in the streets has kind of gone by the wayside to. Although I saw some older boys tossing a football around in the streets of South Minneapolis just a week ago! 🙂

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  2. This is such a vivid self-description: “determined, tough and wiry.” The boys were right to show you respect.

    Another fantastic childhood tale, Libby! Grand slam! 🙂

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  3. We used to play pick-up games of baseball and football in the streets with all the neighborhood kids. We would be gone from breakfast until lunch and then until dinner (on no-school days). This is something that my kids will not have as a memory. Things are so different now. I feel bad that my kids cannot have this experience growing up.

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    • I feel the same way Steve. These were golden days. My daughter grew up on the city streets of N.E. Minnepolis. She played softball for the park leagues from a young age and still plays. She’s AWESOME. But she never had the fun we had!

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  4. Love this story! My boys play pick up baseball and football! They do it in our large yard! I love looking out the windows and seeing all the kids here. I LOVE that you held those boys down Libby! You were such a cool little girl! You must’ve been the talk of the street with Bob Allison helping you out. What a cool experience! My boys would die to have an experience like that! This life you lived is so amazing!

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    • It was a pretty amazing day. Later I wondered if I’d dreamed it. But I had witnesses! Bob Allison was my favorite player on the Twins so it just seemed like a dream! As far as fighting with the boys. I don’t really recommend it. Back in those days it was like an initiation rite and you didn’t get in trouble for fighting like you do today. Also very few big boy are willing to tell some little girl got the best of them, so I stayed out of trouble usually. Still, not recommended!

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  5. I love this, what a wonderful night you must have had recapping that special day. Baseball is my favorite sport, the hormone thing and the lies knocked some of the shine off. But it’s a different world, when I was a kid, defaming a hero was unheard of for the media. Today they dig for dirt. But I will take a chance on the game for now, and stick with the Giants ( sorry Twinkies) I played first also I’m a lefty, I was so fortunate to have the most exciting spot in the game. Keep it up Libby you are Magic.

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  6. Wow! Great story Libby, which is the essence of great writing. Took me back to my childhood, except substitute street hockey for baseball ( Canadian, eh!). We used to have to move the nets every time a car would come down the street. Fortunately, it was a small street in a rural village, so that wasn’t very often.

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    • Glad it took you back Dean. My second favorite sport is hockey. If I’d played it, it would have been my first, but there was no opportunity. Fortunately by the time my daughter could there was. Abby played ice hockey from the time she was 11 until the present day: age 28 and she loves it. She’s and animal on the ice. I’m proud of her accomplishments as a goalie and skating out. She’s a natural athlete, not a scrapper like her mom and her heart is just as big. She’s wonderful! But that’s another post!

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  7. A great story well told. 🙂

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