Too many kids today don’t play enough pick-up games of baseball. There are many reasons for this. The obvious one is that kids, in general, just don’t go outside and PLAY enough… at least not as much as they have in generations past. There are too many other tempting distractions for them, like an almost limitless supply of television channels, the Internet, video games, handheld devices, and so on. In the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. The average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. And, as Mike Lanza points out in this great piece, Playing Ball With No Adults Around, parents too often delude themselves that their child can become a superstar athlete by playing in the most competitive (read: “Select”) leagues around, where they often have to try out for a team, as if they’re trying to make the varsity squad of their high school team. Hogwash, I say!
One of our jobs as parents is to try and encourage our kids to spend more time outdoors, by themselves, and as often as possible. It’s not only healthy for them to do so, but is good for their mind and spirit as well. I don’t really have to go into more detail about this, do I? I didn’t think so.
But expecting your kids to run out and play baseball, without some sort of overly competitive, organized league to belong to, is very problematic. For one thing, it takes too many kids! Even if you can make it happen with only 7 or 8 players a side, that’s still about 15 kids. And even in the most densely populated neighborhoods, that will most likely be too difficult to pull off, especially on a regular basis. In fact, your son or daughter may be lucky to find even two or three others in their general vicinity to play, either because that’s all there is, some of the kids simply don’t like playing outside (sad, but too often true), or the other kids’ time is just being over-managed by their helicopter parents.
But, let’s say that your kid is able to find a handful of others in the neighborhood with enough free time and appreciation of the sport to want to play it. Most people probably have a Wiffle Ball set, and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with Wiffle Ball. It makes it easy to play ball in a smaller area and is lots of fun. But if you have a larger area to play in, say an open field, a big park or a vacant baseball diamond, then a game where they can actually use a baseball and a real bat would be better for them to learn the basic skills of baseball, like hitting and fielding.
This is why I recommend teaching them to play Indian Ball. Indian Ball is basically baseball without the base running, so that you don’t need a player positioned at every base. The great thing about Indian Ball is that as few as three players can get a game going.
But how do you play Indian Ball? Well, just like a lot of bat-and-ball games, there are many different variations. Some of them are quite complicated, while others can follow the simplest rules, such as those of Wiffle Ball. I happen to prefer the rules that some old timers who’ve been playing Indian Ball since the 1940s use, the only difference is I prefer to use a baseball rather than a softball. If you have a smaller lot to play in, or there are too many houses around, you can choose to use a tennis ball instead, making Indian Ball very similar to fuzzball!
In Indian Ball, the pitcher tosses the ball toward a batter from his own team. It’s a single if the fielders of the other team fail either to scoop up the grounder before it stops rolling or to catch it in the air. An out is recorded if they can do either of those or if the batter hits two fouls to the same side of the plate. If a batted ball is fair but doesn’t fly or roll past the pitcher, then it’s an automatic out (so, no bunting!). Three strikes is an out. There is no catcher, no umpire, there are no doubles or triples and, in fact, there are no bases; runs are scored by an accumulation of singles and home runs (hits that go over the fence) using “ghost runners” like in corkball or fuzzball. Likewise, there can be no walks, either, so a ball (a pitch not swung at by the batter) is recorded as a strike.
The game can be played anywhere where you have room to hit the ball and not interfere with parked cars, buildings with windows, or anyplace where the batted ball can cause damage or get easily lost. That’s why it’s best to play it in a sandlot, an open field, or an available baseball diamond with a backstop. But, no matter how you slice it, it’s fun, and a great way for kids to get outside, get some much-needed exercise, and spend a lazy summer afternoon.