Out of Mind
I have always been able to entertain myself. Inventing games or adventures was what brought me the most pleasure and while I enjoyed the company of my friends or siblings, I was just as content alone in my room. Before the invasion of video games and cable television, I found numerous ways to play baseball games in my head or direct my own action movies.
I had a large, white bucket full of plastic army men and would take them into epic battles that would range all over the basement or have them fight hand to hand in jungles or city environments I would make out of clothing, books and bottles. I even gave some particular pieces names and back stories. If I decided to make the wars more “realistic”, I would add an element of chance the soldiers fate by rolling dice to see if they were hit by the bullet or grenade, then again to see if they were only slightly wounded, maimed or killed.
The rolling of dice became a recurring theme in my inventing. Following the idea for a baseball game my father played as a boy, I created a game using trading cards as players, setting up a ball park on a table or floor. Paper bases formed the diamond and pitchers rubber. If I was craving more realism, books would create stadium seating, foul lines and walls. I separated the cards into actual teams and leagues, usually limiting myself to 6 or 8 teams to make playing multiple games more reasonable. I kept stats for hitters-strike outs, home runs, singles, doubles and triples. Since no one outside of baseball statisticians understand ERA, I would just keep track of innings pitched, strike outs, walks and runs given up for the pitchers.
The dice controlled everything, though in my head I easily ascribed every success and failure to the player card. I would pull players, pinch hit for those I felt were weaker hitters, and change pitchers if they were tired or a left handed pitcher had better chances of getting a right handed batter out.
Pages and pages of game box scores and statistics covered the floor during games and I had a drawer where I kept records of completed seasons and career stats. As multiple seasons (and actual summers) passed, I would trade players from team to team. I released some players and made stricter limits on how many players could be on each team. This allowed me to institute a mock draft, taking newly acquired cards to replace older (and usually no longer on the team) players.
The game was simple. The pitcher would roll first, followed by the hitter. If the pitcher rolled a higher number, it was a strike, lower equaled a ball (rolling a 6 always equaled a strike, a 1 was always a ball). If the numbers were the same, the ball was in play and the hitter would then roll both dice. The sum of the dice would determine where the ball was hit (2 for a bunt, 3 to the first baseman, etc). If a 10, 11, or 12 was rolled, the first version of the game called that a home run. I had to alter that after some teams were hitting double digit home runs in single games. Later versions of the game gave those numbers doubles, triples and finally, only a 12 was a home run. If the ball was hit to a fielder, dice were rolled again with the higher number determining if the batter was safe or out, ties always going to the runner.
I loved to play this game alone, but I taught it to friends and family. Dylan and I would play often and we have one favorite story of me running a pencil through poor Dick Ruthven after he failed to get a single out and gave up three straight home runs to Dylan’s NY Mets.
It was a clever and fun game. Of course, current video games have taken away the need for this sort of imagining. I am not condemning video games. I play sports games all the time and they are fantastic. NCAA Football is a game I play at least three times a week. It gives me that same rush, keeping track of stats and records. I get to recruit players, make my team better, suffer crushing defeats and deal with injuries and unhappy players. I get to win national championships and take on rival teams. It brings out that same feeling I had in my basement bedroom when I would imagine my teams playing in crowded stadiums.
I do worry though, that much of the creativity of children is reduced. I know my kids don’t invent the same way I did. Maybe they are just different than I was.
I still have those baseball cards. They are in a box downstairs in the storage area. I bet if I dig, I can even find the card with a pencil hole through it. Perhaps I can find a few dice around the house and clear off the kitchen table for a game or two. You are welcome to come along if you want.