Hampton and LaSalle. On that corner in Piedmont there was a vacant lot. It was in a posh neighborhood, but it was level, a bit weedy, mostly sandy smooth enough for a pickup baseball field. On Saturdays we gathered, no pre-arranged meeting, just boys who wanted to play ball. Bases were shirts or jackets, sometimes the ball was wound with black electrician’s tape. The number of players varied. A pitcher and a catcher and a first baseman, maybe a shortstop. Sometimes there were enough of us to add outfielders. Sides were chosen when one person grabbed a thrown baseball bat and another person grabbed it just above his clenched fist. This was repeated in turn until the last hand at the top got the first choice.
Anything out of the infield was two bases. There was never a visit from a parent. No one had baseball shoes. There were no sign-ups, no dugout, no coaches, no team names, no one to call balls and strikes. If a batter passed on a pitch it was a ball, but nobody walked to first base. Either you hit the ball or struck out swinging. No fathers shouted at a kid to choke up on his bat, no mother dropped kids off, nobody lined the foul lines with chalk. We patterned ourselves after Pacific Coast League players: Ray Hamrick who played left field for the Oaks, Billy Raimondi who was the catcher, Pumpsie Green, second base. We rode the C train to Emeryville and walked to the Oakland Oaks ballpark. The fog came in off San Francisco Bay and we watched the Oaks play the San Francisco Seals and teams from Seattle, Portland and San Diego. There were players named DiMeaggio with the Seals.
There’s probably a big house at Hampton and LaSalle now, with a four car garage. The kids who live in it get shuttled to a green field in a Range Rover and the father shouts words of instruction and curses the umpire who is paid by the recreation department. They have new baseball mitts and the ball is white and the seams are hard. And they wear helmets just in case somebody throws a pitch at their head. The games are all prearranged. Statistics are kept. Four balls and you walk to first. Your mother has to show your birth certificate before you are allowed to play. Nobody bought us pizza after a game on those Saturdays at Hampton and LaSalle.