Summer evenings were wonderful on Prytania Avenue. With over 30 kids around my age on our city block, we rarely had a shortage of ideas for new and exciting games to play. One such game played over the course of 2-3 summers we called “Batball”. When playing baseball we would need a certain number of kids needed to field a team, gloves for our hands in order to catch the balls, bases (or dirt spots on the ground) and a bat with which to hit the ball. Baseball was also played during the daytime.
Almost everything about batball was the opposite of baseball. It was played at night, there were no bases, there were no gloves in batball, there was no team, no runs and no need to keep score. All that was needed to play batball was a light “whiffle” ball and nature – specifically real bats! Yes, I’m talking about the flying kind; the kind of bat that could pass rabies to us if it chose to latch onto your neck and suck your blood….those kind of bats. Bats only come out at night so that’s why this was a nighttime ‘game’. Actually to be considered an official ‘game’ I guess there has to be some kind of score or at least a winner and a loser. If we all had fun that night, we all won. Only once can I ever remember anyone even coming close to being a loser in batball. The rules of batball were simple and I document them here just in case you would like to play this game for yourself at home.
Step 1 – Find Some Bats
This was not a problem for us on Prytania Avenue. Bats eat insects. Insects eat other insects and plants, (like grasses). We had a small park in our neighborhood and it had plenty of grass, trees and bushes. Don’t forget, we Prytania kids were geniuses. So using our amazing command of the algebraic transitive properties, (e.g. if a = b and b = c, then a = c), we very quickly could deduce that we had bats.
Step 2 – Get a Whiffle Ball
Now this step could be a problem. We weren’t necessarily rich kids so we didn’t maintain a healthy stock of sporting equipment anywhere, (except of course the Mathews household which kept a nice supply of Little League equipment at their house because their dad was a coach). We also would use whiffle balls in the park during the day to play baseball with too. It was a different game that didn’t use gloves and was easier to put someone’s eye out or put a good sting on a leg with a nicely placed line drive back to the pitcher. The best whiffle balls for batball were the small practice golf balls with the holes in them. They were best because they typically would allow the greatest amount of flight time (or hang time). If we could round up several whiffle balls, that was optimal – the more the better.
Step 3 – Round Up a Bunch of Stupid Kids
Check – that was us. I don’t know that we were stupid, per se, but let’s just say they probably don’t play batball at MIT.
Step 4 – Go to the Park at Nighttime.
Getting out in the middle of the park was best, away from the trees. If there was a full moon or a high pressure zone in the area that would create a very clear night, perfect!
Step 5 – Throw the Ball Up into the Air as High as You Can.
This is a key step in a successful game of batball. Bats, (insectivores were what we needed), have an amazing capability called echolocation. They emit incredible ultrasonic sound waves which will bounce off of the insects and then bounce back to them. It allows the bat to judge the distance and direction of their prey. If you were a bat in our neighborhood and you didn’t have a very good echolocation system in your toolkit, you likely were not a good batball player.
Step 6 – Try to Catch the Ball When it Comes to the Ground, Avoid the Bat(s)
This is a two-part step. Anyone who can see a whiffle ball at night can catch a ball as it’s coming down to the ground. But if you see a bat hot on its tail? Let’s see what kind of a ballplayer you really are!
So picture it. I wish we would have had easy access to iphones like we do today so that we could have some of this stuff on camera. We were 5-10 kids up in the park, well into the dark, taking turns throwing a whiffle ball high up into the air and watching a bat fly by, think that it was an insect and chase the ball almost all the way to the ground. What a fun game! I can’t tell you how many times I watched bats chase balls perhaps 30-50 feet – maybe a thousand times over the few years of the game’s existence? It was always exciting and never boring. The bats never failed to disappoint. This includes one certain occasion where Diane Mathews thought a bat was stuck in her hair and had bit or scratched her head. The game was temporarily interrupted and we all went down to my front porch, retrieved a flashlight and performed an official head inspection – all clear, Game On!
When I sit down and think very hard about all the great times we had as kids, it almost causes me to be saddened for the kids today. We didn’t have the internet or cell phones and certainly didn’t have the ability to keep in touch electronically then as we all can today. No, we had to walk out our front doors and engage each other in person. Summertime, when there was no school, was an especially important time of the year. We used it to enhance our interpersonal skills with each other, but more importantly we built friendships, made tremendous memories and just had fun! As I’m sitting here this evening finishing up this little story, I’m wearing a huge smile and a warm glow inside as I recall how we’d scatter away from the flight of the whiffle ball as it was hurtling to the ground, being chased by a bat. No one ever got hurt or maimed. No one was called a name. Everyone had fun and we laughed ourselves silly. Everyone was an equal to each other in batball – we were all winners.