|In 1953 - A boy's definition of yardwork
By Harry Cummins
When I was 10 years old, my mother and I lived next door to a retired matador in the North Park suburb of San Diego.
I would spend many afternoons in my neighbor's dimly lit living room, bullfighting posters from Barcelona decorating the walls. Spanish music and animated stories of his flamboyant capework would fill my impressionable senses.
The year was 1953 and I was more interested, however, in hearing about Eddie Matthews and the recently re-located Milwaukee Braves than I was about some guy named Manolete. My fascinating new neighbor's front yard soon became my own private playground where I soon became known to passerbys as 'The Popsicle Kid' and where I would invent the best game an only child could ever imagine.
All I needed was an ample supply of discarded popsicle sticks from the curb in front of the corner convenience store and a baseball bat and I could spend hours playing on this new-found field of dreams. Before each "game", I would stretch a garden hose across the back of the lawn about 10 feet in front of a low retaining wall and about 30 feet from my batter's box. This was the area where singles would land.
There were two more higher white brick retaining walls stacked behind the first wall, each with its own landing area. Perfect for doubles and triples.
Beyond the last wall was a massive grove of banana leaf palm trees. The place where home runs became legendary and an imaginary crowd would go..well....bananas!
It was no small feat to toss a oscillating popsickle stick in the air and make solid contact with a baseball bat. My batting eye was soon sharpened to the extent that I seldom missed hitting the stick. The trick, however, was to strike the stick on its thin end tip which would in turn propel the stick high into the air where it would often ride the wind currents to the outer reaches of my make believe stadium.
Runs would score, outs would be recorded and lineups of real life baseball teams would be exhausted in the playing. Cracked sticks needed to be replaced. Pitchers duels abounded on those days with little wind. Blustery days would see the palm trees peppered with wooden sticks. Light hitting Braves centerfielder Billy Bruton once hit 4 home runs in a single game!
Last night, some 68 years removed from my childish game, I settled in to watch a baseball game on television. Another kid from San Diego, Bradley Zimmer of the Cleveland Indians, quickly launched a first inning drive deep into the faraway right field seats for his sixth home run of the season.
My memories slowly circled the bases in celebration with Bradley. Yes sir.... that's what you'd call a bona fide banana belt!!!!
Keats was right, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.