I often think of my hometown of Berkeley, California; living on Berkeley Way up the street from the Glass Lot Baseball Field. We called it the Glass Lot because it was, to the casual observer a vacant lot of cement, broken glass and occasionally a junked car where winos, addicts and the homeless disposed of their bottles and other trash on a nightly basis. It was also where we played Baseball in the spring, summer, and early fall despite the hazards of broken glass and leftover cement that were remnants of a multi-storied parking lot razed long before I was born.
The “preseason” usually started in February or at the latest, the first week of March. Preseason was never planned. Or even discussed. Everyone instinctively knew the day and time the preseason would begin and we would put on our usual baseball attire; jeans, long sleeve t-shirt, Hi-Top Chuck Taylors, baseball cap and enter the Glass Lot and go through the ritual of choosing sides to play the first baseball game of the season.
Similar to the pros, the preseason was a proving ground for younger players. If you earned the respect of the veterans, you would be assured of playing time throughout the regular season. If you didn’t, you would be relegated to the sidelines or what we called “Scrub” games which were games played by… well, scrubs. Scrub games were often two on two or three on three affairs that were often interrupted when enough real players showed up at the Glass Lot. An announcement would be made by a veteran that “You all need to get off the field” and that would be that. Sides would be chosen and a real game would commence in its place.
The official season opener began on the Sunday when Daylight Savings Time went into effect. The first real game would start after church that Sunday, usually around 2:00 in the afternoon. We kept stats such as homeruns and batting average. Because of the configuration of the field, (center field, right center and left center), we didn’t allow base stealing or leads off of any base. What would normally be left and right on a sandlot baseball field were apartments and the street respectively on the Glass Lot.
The players rarely changed. They only aged out and would be replaced by someone else that moved into or came up in the neighborhood. If there was a Glass Lot Hall of Fame the names would read as follows: Kenny Cook, Harold Wade, Bernard Williams, Peter Williams, Sandy Jordan,Lawrence “Larry” McGrew, Darwin “Poppa" McCullough, Juan Hall, and H. J. Williams.
Between all of us there would be enough bats and baseball gloves to go around. We didn’t live in a poor neighborhood. But food, clothing and other essentials took precedent over athletic attire for most families. So some of us would bring baseball bats, someone would bring the ball, and those that had baseball gloves would bring and share them with the other team when we would change sides.
The games were either nine-inning affairs or the game ended when it became too dark to see the ball. Of course your perspective of when it became dark was dependent upon whether your team was leading or behind at the time the sun was setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge.
That field of cement and broken glass was our Disneyland. We would “ride” baseball every day for almost eight months; morning, noon, and into the early evening. In the summer time when the days were long, there was a game being played from nine in the morning until nine at night. The games were intense and the trash talking was prevalent. If you were a whiner, you would definitely feel the pain from the other team and the wrath of your teammates for being a wimp.
There was no quarter given; even to the youngest players on the field. The peer pressure and athleticism of most of the players made you perform at your best every day you were out on that field. You competed with the best of the best and that more than anything else prepared all of us to compete hard to succeed in life.