Gathering Places

Frank Duffy

Wednesday, March 28, 2001

What happened
to the boys of summer?

As a Yank living abroad for 16 years, I'd hear new English expressions that were unfamiliar, owing to my absence. One such was "soccer moms." Its usage seemed disparaging, although I'd receive differing interpretations from Yanks when asked about its meaning.

Since moving to Oahu in 1998, I've seen soccer moms and dads aplenty. Although childless, my wife and I enjoy meandering around Hawaii Kai's Koko Head Park before and after sunset, when its five baseball diamonds, six tennis courts and two basketball courts are bustling.

Despite all the kids playing ball, not one parked bicycle could be seen as kids are chauffeured to and from games by parents. Hawaii Kai has wide streets plus sidewalks that are ramped at corners, facilitating bike use thereupon -- yet kids don't use bikes for transit.

I did see one lad clad in baseball uniform riding a trendy chrome scooter to his ball game, but guess he did so because it was battery powered and he wanted to impress peers. Kaiser High School's huge parking lot is filled with cars, but no bicycles.

Is it considered old-fashioned by today's kids to bike or walk to school? Will Johnny lose face if he self-propels from home to school when peers are being taxied in family vans -- even though they live only a mile away? In the same vein, do kids nowadays play and practice baseball only when their uniformed teams meet? I ask because I don't see kids gathering on their own to play or just to shag flyballs, one of life's joys.

To use a hoary phrase, "when I was young," boys in my New Jersey neighborhood didn't need parents to push us to play sports -- baseball, basketball, football -- year-round. All summer we'd play baseball with as few as two kids per team: pitcher and outfielder. The batter chose which side of second base he'd hit to. There were no umps; the pitcher threw until batter whiffed or hit.

Some kids on Koko Head's ballfields seem to be there because parents push them to play. Coaches struggle to get fielders in position as the pitcher delivers ball to batter. Outfielders don't back up one another or their team's infielders, and overweight kids waddle as though carrying a load of sauerkraut in their drawers.

Perhaps today's kids play T-ball because they don't play among themselves. The only way they learn is to swat at a ball sitting atop a post. Can't they do that on their own or with parents, then play pickup games with peers so that when uniformed teams meet all of them are ready to rock?

Of course, at age 55 I'm a dinosaur -- and Rip Van Winkle to boot after living in Japan, Korea an Saudi Arabia for all but 10 of the last 34 years. In my neighborhood, my pals and I walked or rode bikes to ballfields or an empty lot. We didn't need prodding by parents, and we didn't need T-ball to get us ready for hardball. We'd pedal five miles each way to play Little League and later Babe Ruth League games. The stands were mostly empty.

Truth be told, we didn't want parents to attend our games, anymore than we wanted them to watch us play pickup games with our neighborhood pals. We played better without the pressure of parents watching -- and meddling. Games sans parents meant no fistfights in stands, and no coaches getting punched or shot by angry dads, as I've read happens in today's more enlightened society.

Frank Duffy is a retired
technical editor.

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