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.
Left field was the road that ran past the school, center field was that triangular patch of grass and weeds where the road divided 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 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.
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 tall grass and weeds before reaching the fence was playable. If the ball got lost in the high grass, that was too bad. Next time keep your eye on the ball. The batter could run forever!
Our country school with 28 kids could field two teams consisting of 18 players, nine on each side. The game was still on if we only had 12 players to choose from. But if there were fewer than ten players available, we played “work up.” No time limit, no keeping score, anyone could join or leave at any time. You had to have a pitcher, batter, first baseman, and one fielder. So even four fielders could keep the game going, but it wasn’t easy, eight or nine was much better. A catcher wasn’t needed because the woodshed served as the backstop.
The little ones picked up the game and learned the rules. Some kids were so small they couldn’t swing the bat, so a bigger kid would wrap their arms around the small kids’ and help them grip the bat. That made four hands on that bat to swing at the pitch.
The first- or second-grader would take off to first base. Sometimes the kid would mistakenly toddle down the third base line. Older kids would straighten them out and get them going down the right path. I do believe that is a metaphor for what the one-room schools taught us: “Get them going in the right direction.”