I didn’t play a lot of organized sports growing up — but a whole lot of unorganized sports, especially baseball and softball. 

Rarely did I don a uniform, and I have but one little scratched-up trophy: “Boynton All-Stars 1968.” 

Coaches weren’t knocking down my doors, and we were a six-person, one-car family. Mom didn’t drive, and Dad took the Pontiac station wagon to and from work in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

He was a pipefitter at a plant where the government produced explosives (TNT) during wartimes. The plant was demolished years ago, and the reclaimed land is now the site of an environmentally friendly Volkswagen assembly plant. 

So, unofficial ball games were played wherever we could walk, catch a ride or create enough space to swing a bat. Then, after reaching the magical age of 16, a just-purchased used car got me to part-time work, school and play.

We didn’t need umpires, coaches and uniforms to play, play, play. Rules were adjusted for terrain and the number of available players.

I recall getting hit in the forehead with a baseball once because we failingly tried to get in “just one more inning” before dark.

Sometimes we played a game called flies and skinners — that involved just one hitter and everyone else (regardless of the number) with their gloves in the outfield, scrambling to make the catch (for points that led to becoming the batter). 

It was good training for a similar experience decades later when my friend Marshall and I would catch batting practice home run balls by the hundreds at Turner Field. Oh, if we’d had just one pristine, official Major League Baseball in my youth.

We usually had one bat and one ball — each reinforced with black electrical tape. A lost ball could delay the game for quite a while. 

Sometimes, it would be found days later after a rain. If you’ve never hit a waterlogged baseball with a cracked bat screwed in place and wrapped in tape, don’t claim to have played the game.  

My glove had stuffing leaking from one of the seams, and the first owner’s name marked out. I purchased a new glove for the first time at age 22 when playing outfield — in uniform, even — in a modified fast-pitch softball league in Durham, North Carolina.

Do I have a point other than reminiscing? Maybe.

It is common to look back at how our educational experiences, internships, mentoring and vocational tracks shaped our lives. In this more reflective stage of life, I’m discovering how less-formal experiences may have been at least as formative.

Here are lessons learned from playing pick-up games or flies and skinners until dark:

First, we learned to be self-starters. 

We didn’t wait for someone older and wiser to organize all of our events and send us a schedule. We just made it happen.

There were no fans at our pick-up games — no parents wearing round pins with our faces on them. 

Second, we learned to officiate ourselves. 

Of course, we had umpires at our Dixie Youth Baseball and Pony League games. But those probably represented about 10% or less of our playing times.

At our pick-up games, we’d rather play than argue over a close strike or out. I don’t recall a time when one of my friends or I got mad enough that we took the ball home early. 

Third, we learned to innovate. 

Our baseball “fields” for pick-up games fit the broader, agrarian understanding of that term. 

They were not well-groomed and didn’t take the shape of a well-measured diamond. Pieces of cardboard or someone’s sweatshirt sufficed as bases.

And rarely in the hills of northwest Georgia did we play on a flat surface. 

Our games didn’t require nine or 10 players on each team. The choosing of teams, of whatever number was available, began with a ritual of alternating hands on a bat handle — a practice that’s hard to describe.

Rules were adjustable and agreed upon. Some of you know about ghost runners and a dead right field. 

Excuse me if this comes across as a “kids these today” rant from someone romanticizing the past. It’s more likely rooted in my current anticipation of another baseball season.

This greater awareness of shaping influences can apply to the spiritual aspects of lives as well.

There is wisdom in asking ourselves from where our understandings of God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation and faithfulness came — formally and informally. And then to look more closely at how those concepts evolved (if they have) and continue to do so.

We might find ourselves more responsive to a divine tug today if we realize how we got to where we are now — and then live with an openness rather than defensiveness to a greater realization of what it means to follow Jesus faithfully.

Share This