Monday, February 15, 2010

Iowaville: The Three Night, All Night Softball Tournament

For a farm kid that rarely got off the farm, it was a real treat when the annual 3-day all night softball tournament came to town and my parents signed up for shifts to sell food and my father also played on a team. That meant that my brother and I were pretty much free to do as we please for much of three days which rarely included watching the softball game in progress.

We spent much of our time at the playground area across the road where we would hang out with other kids our age. I don't remember what we talked about but as a preteen, I'm sure we talked about the normal things. Sometimes we would wad up some scraps of tinfoil and paper cups for a game of handball or perhaps see who could jump the farthest from a swing. Once, before any of us understood physics, one brave kid tried to complete a revolution around the top rail of the swing set onto to hit the dirt hard. Nothing leaves a greater impression on a young lad than to hear the breath of a kid leaving his mouth in one fast squirt.

My parents usually gave us a small amount of money for supper of a hamburger, chips and a pop but when you are a kid with lots of time to kill, nothing helps to kill time like candy and a lot more pop. Since my parents made sure I didn't have enough money for the extra, I had to earn it. The organizers of the event would pay a kid a hamburger and pop for every bag of garbage he brought in which made their jobs easier at the end of three days. Of course with a dozen or more other like minded kids armed with trash bags, meant I had to roam far and wide to collect enough trash for a payoff. I remember once finding a small car tire in a wooden draw probably a quarter mile from the ball field and cramming that into the trash bag and lugging it all the way back. I also learned other tricks such as putting in empty boxes of buckets open in down so they took up the maximum amount of space as possible. If I was full, I would still get paid and down the soda while giving the burger to a lucky dog.

For the candy, I needed cash and the only way to do that was to shag foul balls for a dime each. Any ball, fair or foul that made it over the ball diamond fence was fair game. So when someone yelled, "heads up" to warn people of a foul ball possibly headed towards their noggin, we were off running through people, traffic and whatever obstacle was in our way in a desperate attempt to be the first to get to the ball. Being gifted with long legs and one of the fasted people my age, I did fairly well and would sometimes get a couple bucks worth of dimes in one evening. That was usually good for six or eight candy bars which was more than enough sugar to keep me going.

One evening after a pause to observe a lightening storm, we were sitting on the bleachers with my parents watching a game in progress. (I'm assuming my parents watching the game was why I wasn't off doing my normal thing.) Gradually people started noticing a glow off to the southwest side of town that kept getting brighter. People started hopping into the cars to check out what was burning and eventually word got back to my father that it was on one of the farms he farmed. A few minutes later, we joined half the town to watch what remained of a barn full of hay burn to the ground. The fire had been so hot that a few days later when I was exploring the ashes I found several head sized glass rocks of what had formerly been windows before they had melted.

Again, the demise of the all night softball tournaments can also be pinned on the farm crisis. As the farms went under and people moved off, both in the country and in Iowaville, the teams became fewer and fewer until it wasn't even worth having anymore. However, not all has been lost. A co-worker who still lives in Iowaville informed me that the all night ball tournament has been resurrected along with three or four others during the year. Evidently some soul with memories as vivid as mine has put a great deal of effort into organizing them and has saved them from extinction, at least for now. Perhaps if you visit one of them this summer, there may be a man with his family, daughter still to young to shag foul balls for the going rate, sitting there with a smile on his face and a look as if his mind is thirty years in the past. That would be me.

12 comments:

Eutychus2 said...

'If you schedule the games again, he will come!'

Ed said...

Eutychus2 - Absolutely! Now if I can work on getting Shoeless Joe there...

Beau said...

That's great- I hope you get a chance to take your daughter to some when she's a little older, or at least yourself.

R. Sherman said...

Sounds like fun, although the sophisticates on the coasts would probably cringe at the idea.

BTW, obviously the Des Moines River is the demarcation line between "pop" and "coke," the latter remaining a generic appellation, as indicating carbonated non-alcoholic beverages.

Cheers.

Sage said...

there's something about baseball (or softball) and Iowa. Nice story!

Murf said...

This does sound like fun!

Bone said...

I spent lots of time at ball fields growing up. A foul ball got you a free bag of popcorn at our concession stand so those were a hot commodity. Though I don't think we had any trash for cash program.

When I wasn't on the field, I spent most of my time playing cupball, which was a rudimentary form of backyard baseball where the ball is a wadded up paper cup and the bat is your hand.

Good memories.

Ed said...

Beau - When she is a little older and has a longer attention span!

R. Sherman - I always forget that bit of trivia when writing to a national audience!

Sage - Field of Dreams. Enough said.

Murf - It certainly was as a kid. I have a feeling my body couldn't take more than an hour of sitting on hard wooden bleachers and shagging foul balls is certainly out of the question.

Bone - Trash for Cash. You should be a slogan master.

Murf said...

Wow! I remember cupball. Not that I ever got to play it but I watched as the brothers and their friends played.

Bone said...

Murf - Ah yes, I remember those girls who used to sit on the bleachers or stand by the fence and watch... cupball groupies. I wondered whatever happened to them.

TC said...

Does anyone EVER really understand physics?

Great post. I hate to see things like that die.

Bone: Don't you have enough groupies these days without remembering ones from years past?

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