posted by Matt W on June 6th, 2012

When I was a kid, every day after school, a bunch of guys got together and played ball. I remember playing games all the way back to 1rst grade. You showed up, the best players at that particular sport picked teams, and you played some sort of ball for a couple of hours and went home. Every day. Fast forward a generation and my kids have never played a pick-up game–ever. These days, if it doesn’t involve a car ride, an adult making it happen, and a lot of money, kids aren’t involved. I only know one family with kids that play pickup games. My friends happened to buy a house that backed on to a field and the other surrounding houses all have tons of boys the exact same ages. My friends have 4 sanity sucking boys (the least amount of children of anyone in the neighborhood) driving their Mother crazy and therefore getting kicked out of the house to play on an hourly basis. It’s a pick-up game perfect storm. Other than this one area, it never happens.

To this day, I can remember the strengths and weaknesses of every kid in the neighborhood, at every sport we played. Aaron B didn’t go to his left in basketball, was horrible at baseball, and was always a solid pick at football. I always chose him for my team when I was a captain because he sweats a lot and I didn’t like guarding him. Danny M could shoot the rock, threw a nice spiral, and could hit, but couldn’t be bothered to actually play defense at any sport. We always said it was because he didn’t want to break a nail. If your team lacked offense, you always looked for Danny M., always.  Joe A. was exactly opposite. He was solid on defense at every sport and gave a mean red belly (slapping someone on their belly with an open palm trying to leave a perfect red hand imprint). If you knew he owed someone a red belly you picked him for your team to avoid the damage. I was a solid all-around player at all sports that was easily distracted. Players on my team were always telling me the score, while the players on the other team tried to distract me with food or a good story. So it worked out well for me either way. Wiffleball was the great equalizer. If there was a good pitcher throwing, Greg V had a curveball that broke about 5 feet that he threw for strikes, we all looked bad, but we did have a really cool stadium that we created in the backyards of a few neighbors. When you hit a homer, which was rare, you ruled the roost for a week or so. It was a part of life for everyone. At the end of school each day, 1st through 12th, someone picked a game and a place and everyone showed up.

So what happened to the pick-up game? What happened to this important part of my life that my children never experienced? I think the biggest difference is that nobody, ever, got a ride home from school in a car. We ran home through the woods together, or rode the bus, thus giving us ample time create a game to play that afternoon. We also didn’t have video games to distract us. I don’t remember ever playing video games until I drove to play arcade games. No one had a gaming system in their house. My children on the other hand have gotten a ride to school every day of their lives, have a mind numbing amount of useless homework, and have been hooked to a video system too many hours to count.

I am referred to as the “old curmudgeon” all the time, mostly because I’m perceived as looking at the old days as better than present in every way. My point is usually, more along the lines of, are we truly better off than we were before? Are my children better off playing video games than a pick-up basketball game? While they can use just their thumbs to destroy evil intergalactic warriors, they have a hard time looking at people and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. So my answer is no. Mostly, it just feels like they missed out on a part of life I thoroughly enjoyed.

Maybe I can get the guys together for a pick-up game at our high school reunion this year, for old time’s sake.  I still know all our weaknesses, but now they are all the same… we’re a lot older.  I’ll bring lots of ice and ibuprofen.

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