Whoever laid out Oak Grove School, even before 1900, did not have softball in mind. And now, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it wasn’t any better. The softball field was a terrible place to play. We didn’t know it at the time. We thought it was fine, we just didn’t know any better and you just accepted what you had.
Noon lunch gave us time to get a game in, as much as 3 to 5 innings. Gulp down the food in 5 minutes. Two upperclassmen, which meant 2 boys in seventh or eighth grade were appointed or self-appointed to “choose up” sides.
The only level of flat spot on the whole field was the batter’s box area. The back stop was the wood shed. The bases were pieces of firewood that kept moving around. The batter ran downhill to get to first base, a few feet beyond first base was the gravel road that took you down into Kettle Hollow. Second base was close to the road that would take one back onto Oak Grove Ridge. A runner ran uphill to get from second base to third base, which was right next to the hand operated water pump.
The softball diamond was not square. It was, well, diamond shaped, like on playing cards. The distance from home plate to second plate was almost twice the distance as from first base to third base. That shape fit the real estate we had.
Oak Grove School owned 2 bats, one for the big kids, and a shorter smaller one for the little kids. That was twice the number of bats we Scheckels had at home. The bats were stored in the cloakroom. Some kids had a softball glove, or mitten, most did not and caught the ball bare handed.
Teams were chosen at noontime and we kept the same team for about a week. The battle raged. Yelling, cheering, booing, “you’re out”, “no, I wasn’t”, constant arguing, which was always short lived, name-calling, and castigations. What wondrous times those were!
Sometimes, Teacher would play. Mrs. Ray, well she was a girl, and she threw the ball like a girl, and swung the bat like a girl, which didn’t seem an efficient way of playing ball. So Betty Ray would take a few swings of the bat, and usually would not run to first base, but designated another kid to run for her. We decided that was fair. It was OK for the teacher to have a designated runner.
Willard Ray was the best teacher-player. He was a man, of course, and the only male teacher I had at Oak Grove Ridge School. He was fairly big and strong and could hit the ball a mile, or at least it seems like he could.
Left field was the road that ran past the school, center field was that triangular patch of grass and weeds where the road divides between Oak Grove Ridge road and Kettle Hollow road, and right field?? Well, there was no right field. There was that road and then the woods. Left hand batters, like Jimmy Kozelka, enjoyed a short right field fence that was only 40 feet from home plate. A pop-up down the right field line put the ball over the fence.
If a right handed batter took a stance that had the feet aligned toward first base and swung late, they could put it over that short fence. We made our own rules. We decided that a ball over the right field fence was a ground-rule double. Any ball hit in the road, or gutter, or the 4 or 5 feet of tall grass and weeds before reaching the fence, well, that was playable. If the ball got lost in the high grass, well that’s too bad. Next time keep your eye on the ball. The batter could run forever.