What sport is played with six outs, a bloated bat that ensures strong hits, and free walks to kids in flowered pants? Give up? It's "Eddy Ball," one of the most inventive and child-friendly games I've ever seen. Kids in our town hadn't even heard of "Eddy Ball" a few months ago. Now they practically live for it.
When we got the invitation for a game that's "like whiffle ball, but faster and more fun," we were intrigued. My seven-year-old grabbed his baseball hat and glove, and we headed to the uneven lawn behind Scott and Lucinda's house.
Scott, a lean woodworking teacher and father of two young girls, was on the pitcher's mound in baggy shorts. His wife, Lucinda, was on third base. Hordes of kids were lined up to bat, their feet behind a rock - one of the rules, we learned. Parents were milling about in happy confusion.
"Eddy Ball," is the creation of a warm and generous man named Edward Czarnowski, who used to live in the next town. There's now a plaque about Eddy at the field where he taught neighborhood kids and their parents that there's more to baseball than RBIs. His game was widely called "whiffle ball with Eddy." The bat was fat and easy to swing. Everyone of every age got to play. And the rules, including outs for arguing, were informal and inventive. While giving players two hours of nonstop fun and heaps of encouragement, Eddy also snuck in some important life lessons.
Scott, we learned, played "whiffle ball with Eddy" from fifth grade through high school. Even after lacrosse practice, he'd ride his bike about three miles over to Eddy's field. Now he and Lucinda, are determined to keep Eddy's legacy alive in their own community.
"It's more philosophy than anything," he says. "The game is played around that."
"Eddy Ball" emphasizes "pickup" rather than "do it right," says Lucinda, adding that this doesn't always come easily to parents used to coaching from the sidelines.
"At first, some parents hovered over their kids," she explains. "Then they realized we were out here to have a good time, and that it's even OK for kids to just pick dandelions in the field."
In this day of hyperorganized, competitive youth sports, such efforts to preserve the old-fashioned pickup game are a treasure.
And there's nothing like that big bat for boosting confidence.
"It gives them such a feeling of success," says Lucinda. "When they hit that ball, it just takes off!"
The kids do too. Long live the pickup game.
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