Games Boys Play

You might think that at the age of 65, I would profess that I know what women do and what they want.  I will admit that like most of the men out there, I don't have a clue most of the time.  I can tell you what took me through life and nearer to the end, but I won't tell you it works for girls.  With that in mind, here is a look at my life through the games I played.

I would love to tell you that as a little guy, I played calmly with cars and that led me to a life of working on and loving automobiles.  What was really the truth was that we crashed, bashed and threw cars in such a way that you might think we hated those damned little plastic and metal cars.  I think the more paint we knocked off the cars the happier we were.  

One day I was watching a couple of brothers play with their neat trucks.  The six year old wanted the truck that his four year old brother had.  He managed to distract the little guy long enough to drive the big rig off making a pretty realistic diesel sound.  The little brother calmly walked over and with the truck in his hand gave the big brother a smack on the head with the trailer and shouted, "You Share!"   Pretty much for me that was a prime example of boys and their games.  

I think I gave you a pretty early hint that I was a "baby boomer."   In my neighborhood there was never a shortage of other kids to play with.  Most of the play time was divided pretty much by sex.  The real exception was the  evening games of kick the can but during the day we divided up and contested how much we could win by.  One of the major events was the giant baseball game held up the street.  My backyard ended with the parking lot for Beech Aircraft so it was not a real good place to play baseball.  We did manage to spread a couple of the fence wires so we could wiggle through if necessary but the Beech Guards would not let us post a kid over there to return balls hit beyond the fence.  

Up at the end of Byrd and Chamberlain was a wonderful area that no one had built a shack on.  It was about a block long and we built a ball diamond on one side of the field.  The outfield went on for a ways and we loved to play there.  One of our first projects each time we played was to do a police call and pick up the broken glass.  In our early days most of the guys didn't wear shoes let alone baseball cleats. In fact we had to share our baseball gloves so the infielders could all have one.  The outfield was mostly a bunch of little kids that would just chase down the balls hit out there.  It looked like a pack of wild animals scrambling after some poor prey animal.  I did see a soccer game with a bunch of second graders that had that same look of a mob chasing the bad guy.
To make it even, we would always choose up sides.  The older guys would be the captains and they would pick the first ten or so players each.  They would then just count the little guys and split that number up for the outfield.  In a lot of cases we didn't know (or want to know) who the mob was.  It was mostly little brothers and once in a while little sisters.   The point was that there was always some kind of a mechanism that split the important players in some manner that was kinda even and then just a split of the rest using math.  At the top of the batting order, the main guys would score a lot of runs and then at the end of the batting order the little guys would strike out or hit ground balls and be thrown out at first. None of that lets let everyone win crap for us.  It was cut throat, every team for its self baseball.  No one ever wrote down the scores so it wasn't as important that we had a record of the win, only that for that day, we competed and someone won.

As children of early 50's, we had all listened to war stories our dad's told told over and over.  We also had radio adventures of the lone ranger, the shadow and tales of the War Between the States.  Call it what you want, the war of rebellion, the civil war or whatever, it gave us a great deal of fun playing  Rebs against those dirty Yankees.   In my neighborhood there were a lot of kids fresh out of the hills of Missouri and Arkansas and  Yankees were the enemy a  lot.  I really didn't mind too much as I had a cub scout shirt and a yellow neckerchief and I loved the idea of charging through the infantry as a gallant cavalry man.  I will have to admit that the name Mount Calvary from the bible and mounted cavalry was almost a distinction we could not make.  It was confusing to make a Calvary charge while playing cavalry.  

All this play led up to my first exposure to organized sports.  My daddy was a member of the Beech Aircraft Employees club and I joined the little league team the first year I was eligible.  For some reason they picked birds as the names of the teams and we were the meadowlarks.  What a wimpy name for  a bunch of warriors.  True to the name, we went most of the season without a win.  What a downer that was.  I had played outfield and first base mostly. I could catch the ball when it was thrown at me and left field and first base was my game early in the season.  One day at practice, the catcher on our team was not there and the coach put me in that position.  I loved it from the first pitch.  Our pitcher was a tall skinny kid with an arm that was sure to go pro later on in life.  The other teams would just have their runners take off when he threw because our catcher had only a 50% catch rate and even then if he threw the ball towards a base most of the time the runner would keep running and get to the next base on a throwing error.  The first time a runner took off for second, I caught the ball and threw him out. I became the catcher for the playoffs.  There was a double elimination set up and everyone expected us to just lose two games and go home.  Especially when we played our first game against the Cardinals. Well, we did lose that first game to them but came through the losers bracket without another loss.  In fact, in addition to having the best battery, almost everyone on the team found their stroke and we won several games on the mercy rule.  Get 11 runs ahead and the umpire would call the game.  

In Junior High, I was the 6th best player on the team.  I sat on the bench a lot and got put into the game late - a lot.  I loved basketball and never did learn to like track or soccer.  I wanted to play football but really was never big enough to play at our high school.  We had some big old husky guys that would have torn a skinny white guy apart.  I did play basketball in a church league and loved it.  We didn't win a lot but we played our hearts out.

It was in basic training that I found out that I was among the best when you spread the events out and did them one at a time.  I was among the fastest runner, could throw the practice hand grenades into a target well and could do the overhead ladder to the max score.  The lane graders were always telling me that I could just drop off, I had the maximum score.   In fact, I completed Basic training with a score of 998 out of a thousand.  There was one guy that scored 999 because of my rifle range error I got beat by one point.  I hit my rear sight with my helmet when I jumped down into the fox hole position and shot two rounds short of the target.  I realized my error and ran the sight down and then back up the seven clicks and finished the course without a miss.  I qualified as Expert not High Expert.  That difference was two points.  I would have won the competition had it not been for that one error.

All of this led up to the ultimate game.  In 1968, I went to Vietnam and for a year played a game with an armed enemy.  I did everything I could do to find him and shoot him with artillery.  He did his best to ambush, mortar and shoot rocket propelled grenades at us.  I am fairly proud that I pretty much did my best and we did a pretty darned good job of shooting him before he shot us. (There was one time, our first night in the field that I wasn't in charge of that we lost a bunch but not after that)  But, as any one that has been on combat will tell you that the outcome is fairly binary.  Either you get killed or you don't.   I didn't.  

I attribute most of my luck in Vietnam to the almost endless series of games I played as a kid.  We ran, hid and hunted each other for hours.  

COL (Ret)


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