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Commentary: We Can Play Every Sport at Once

By Ed Adamczyk

Buffalo, NY – I am of a generation that grew up without "play dates," without moms hauling us to recreation in SUVs, without planning fun by appointment. When it was time to play, we went out and played, until it was time to load our equipment onto our bicycles and go home.

That's why it cheers me to see that spirit of spontaneous sport still exists, at least in my part of Kenmore. It might be the giddiness of spring, or that springtime seems to allow all street sports to co-exist, but here's what recently went on in the backyard next to mine: three young men, one batting with a broken tree branch as another underhanded him a soda can. Swing and a miss. The third one acted as some kind of infielder. They were having a blast.

They actually drew onlookers, and welcomed the scuffed baseball I tossed into the proceedings. Until they lost it in the tall grass. I didn't inquire why they were all wearing Sabres jerseys.

Just as nobody owns just one baseball hat, no one has just one item of sports gear. In a place like Kenmore, any family with athletic equipment probably has a well-worn pile of it, and mix-and-match sports are waiting to be invented on streets and in driveways (that's how the art of the Frisbee was created, long ago, with actual pie tins). Down the street yesterday I observed some kind of goofy game involving a five kids of varying ages, a basketball, and a hockey net, and I suspect the rules are still undergoing refinement.

School buildings once had defining marks on their walls, not from graffiti, but from a game universally known as "Strikeout." Stake out an empty school parking lot, draw a reasonably accurate strike zone on the wall in chalk, and two players could each be an entire baseball team. Hit the ball over the pitcher's head, it's a single. Hit the house beyond the fence, it's a homer.

Finding such wall decoration today is as rare as finding anyone who'll believe drivers would actually stop and toss back balls that landed in the street.

One kid, alone, could actually be an entire baseball game, complete with announcer and scorekeeping, if he had a glove, a tennis ball, and a set of porch steps. Throw the ball at the steps, it bounces off at a crazy angle, and the ball is in play. One out, two outs, whoops, high overhead for a double. I thought I invented that game, until I met a hundred others with identical memories from childhood.

None of any of this seems to improve athletic skill or discipline, but the exercise of imagination goes off the charts. I was afraid the communal invention of these games was a lost pastime, forgotten by overscheduled and overregulated young people, but apparently springtime, with its mash-up of televised sports (if you count the recent football draft, they're all in season now) can still bring it out.

I recently saw a group of four young bicyclists, one a girl, traveling down my street, each balancing a hockey stick. Somewhere in Kenmore, a polo match is about to break out.

Listener-Commentator Ed Adamczyk is a columnist with the Tonawanda News.

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