It was the summer of 1957. My mother had just learned to drive and had bought her first car, a brand new yellow convertible with a white top. I had enough vision to play endless hours of 4 square with my girlfriend next door. I was just beginning to study dance with Jack Louiso, a well known and respected teacher. Life was pretty good in 1957, for lots of reasons.
When I read a column in the paper the other day, I was immediately transported to the back yard of our neighbors, in that year. I was thrilled to learn that kids still play wiffle ball. Here’s the pitch that sent me sailing back.
Michael Arace commentary: Wiffle ball tournament held in yards of dreams. By Michael Arace The Columbus Dispatch “Fifty-one lawn chairs and home plate were planted on the Hayden family’s front yard on Sherwood Avenue in Bexley yesterday. The odd chair was for the umpire. The field stretched over the Plank family driveway and expanded across the Planks’ front lawn.”
We didn’t have an umpire, and we didn’t have spectators. Every evening, after supper, we straggled into the back yard of the Wepplers, who lived 2 doors down. We didn’t go to the front door. We just went around the side of the house and waited for Mrs. Weppler to come out and start the game. She was the pitcher, and another mother was the catcher. There were about 6 of us regular players of various ages and abilities. Whenever I came to bat, Mrs. Wepller would give me a verbal heads up, knowing that I couldn’t see the ball very well, so she would say, “Here it comes Mary. Ready, swing.” Sometimes, I actually made contact with the ball, enough that it got into my blood. It helped that dusk was the time of day when my vision was somewhat functional. I liked wiffle ball, because I could see it, especially when the sun went down, and it didn’t hurt if I missed the catch and it hit me. Well, it might sting a little, but not like a real baseball.
One evening, when I walked down to the Wepplers’, the back yard was empty. It was a Friday night, and it was early in the summer, and I had just fallen in love with the game. I was afraid that something was wrong. I went to the front door and rang the doorbell. Mrs. Weppler appeared and kindly told me that she didn’t play on Friday nights. “It’s our night to imbibe,” she explained. I had to run home and ask my mom what “imbibe” meant. It struck me funny that she chose that word to explain why she wasn’t available to play on Friday nights. But every other evening, she was out there for us. Our parents didn’t line up in lawn chairs, and Mrs. Weppler probably made up the rules along the way, according to which kids showed up, but it’s a summertime memory I treasure.
Today’s blind children can play “beep ball,” with a specially designed ball that has an electronic beeper inside. The rules are a little different from regular baseball, but it allows blind children, and adults too, the opportunity to enjoy the Great American pastime. Thank you Mrs. Weppler, wherever you are.