“Whatever Happened to WorkUps!!”
“Dibs on first base, first up…”
It seems as if it were just yesterday when you could drive through almost any neighborhood and find kids playing pickup baseball and softball games. There would be a big pile of bicycles(remember those old “fat tires”-now, it’s a beer!), any old grassy area(or even macadam) without formal lines or fences, and of course a real motley crew(not motley creu) of boys and girls playing sandlot ball. To the outsider, aka adults, it looked like “organized” helter skelter, but believe it or not, there were ironclad rules for every individual game depending on where it was being played!
Not so very long ago, youngsters of all ages would hustle to the local school yard or ball field/park, or even vacant lot(find one of those today!), after school, after dinner, and definitely on the weekends to be the first one there….you needed to get there as early as you could so you would be able to get into the game. Albeit, the type of “baseball” that was to be played would be determined by the number of kids that showed up(there were some inane things that “got in the way”-weddings, funerals, punishment, chores(yes, chores!). EVERYONE wanted the edge of getting there first, as many times you would then to get to “choose” your team, and hence, avoid having to play right field.
Obviously, if there were enough players for a real game, then sides were chosen, “rules” established(“ground rules”), and the game began. Many times, the game would be delayed as the kid with the ball was late…but got a spot because he/she brought the ball: First unwritten rule and Life Lesson, NO BALL, NO GAME! Depending upon the numbers, everything from “pitcher’s hand” to “no right field” could be played. If only a few(several?) showed up, there was always “over the line”, penny ball, stoop ball, 500, etc; or of course, the players could make up a game based on the physical anomalies of the field/lot/etal. Sometimes players used the pitcher’s mound as home plate and hit towards the backstop(the schools loved this game), using various cross beams as targets for hits! Many times no one had proper equipment and the games of stickball(especially in the inner cities), wall ball, and others were created. Ingenuity, what a concept?…without the electronic games available today, the kids of yester year were truly creative; especially in utilizing their wile to get an edge on the others!
The most democratic of all games was “Workups”. Using the format of conventional baseball, youngsters upon their arrival to the field, ran to home plate or a specified area and YELLED their batting or defensive position. Many times the game had to wait as a couple of players may still be “resolving” their differences of opinion as to who yelled first! Most got there very early so they could bat first; generally there were three hitters and the rest were in the field on defense.
The game was very simple! The hitters stayed UP, until they made an out. Note: Without umps this in itself could be a very fun, challenging, and long day. If the out was anything but a pop up or fly a ball, the batter became the right fielder, or if too many players, the first alternate, etc. All defensive players then rotated towards home(rf to cf, cf to lf, etc with the last being catcher to hitter). If the out was a pop up or fly ball, the two players simply exchanged places. The game of “Workups” could go on all day, week, or year…some played a perpetual game in that the next day you returned to the previous day’s position!
Suffice it to say, these games and “workups” in particular, were operated, executed, and adjudicated by youngster. There were NO parents or adults anywhere to be seen(unless coming to “remove” a player). Yes, of course, there were “disputes”, but they were resolved/settled in various ways, some verbally and other, well, use your imagination! There were no umpires as it was “call your own”, no uniforms, no catching gear, no helmets, no cups, no rosin bags, no team mothers, no official score keepers, no league officials, no sun screen(yeow), no after game snacks, and definitely not everyone got an award! Heavens, in many cases the bases were various spots you had to find! Fun? Learning? Oh yes, by the barrel!!! Survival of the fittest, cooperation, decision-making, problem-solving, work ethic, punctuality, hand-eye coordination, negotiating skills, self-preservation, and many more. The basic question would be, “What was NOT learned on the sandlot?” And, the best part was that if you won at any of these forays, you got to cherish that until the next game without a shiny medal to hang in your room!
Today, the story is quite different! Rarely do you see any kids on a field, school yard, or a lot “just playing”…certainly not “workups”, over the line, “fence ball”, etc. The youngsters today, and their parents, must be driven to the field or ball park for an organized(by an adult, in a uniform and with an official ball cap) EVENT or formal practice. A team mom will organize responsibilities for parents, insist upon a healthy snack, and pass out
evaluations and individual team/individual statistics(just love Game Changer—it certainly has), followed by an inclusive email or cell phone message. The players must wear a particular “outfit”, bring their equipment, and of course, be “instructed” as to how to play and “perform”. All disputes are resolved by the coach or supervising adult…and so on and so forth…Stepford Ball! Is it the electronic pastimes, fear of kidnapping, or enabling parents that dissuade the youngsters from “playing for playing” sakes?
In neighborhoods today, unless it is a “scheduled” day, the quietest place to sit and read a book is in the middle of a baseball diamond as NO one will be using it for its intended purpose anyway. It is a crying shame that sandlot ball is gone and “workups” are an anachronism. Gone are the “sprint to home” and the “first ups” bat ceremony(hand over hand). Most of all, we all should be grateful that today’s attitude was not pervasive in the days of Ruth, Gehrig, Robinson, Mays, Mantle etal. Baseball would have become staid and/or vicarious even quicker!!
“The only REAL game in the world is baseball!” Babe Ruth