From the Sidelines: Backyard Dreaming
by Keith Champion
I always enjoy going back to the farm where I grew up in southwestern Michigan. The farm is on a lake that has some of the best bass and bluegill fishing you will find anywhere. I always enjoy seeing many deer, wild turkey, sand hill crane, fox, and coyote. My week back on the farm brought to mind numerous memories of my childhood.
As I walked around the yard, I thought back to all of the sports related games I would play. Because of our location on our farm in the country, most of the time I played by myself. Sometimes Dad would hit me fly balls or I could coerce my sister into hitting me some grounders. The old sheep shed with its concrete walls was where I chalked in a strike zone and pitched 9 inning games against the 1961 New York Yankees. I knew their entire line-up and would either walk them or strike them out as I took my place on the “mound” by the old walnut tree. Those old rubber coated baseballs were just perfect for such an event!
In another area on the farm, I reminisced about all of the home run derby games we would play with a whiffle bat and ball. Most of the time it was a one on one version of the old Home Run Derby show that used to feature sluggers like Mantle, Maris, Aaron, Mays, Killebrew, etc. We would all pretend to be one of these players when it was our turn to hit the white whiffle ball with that yellow plastic bat.
In the back yard, a neighbor boy would come over and we would play one on one tackle football. As 10-12 year olds, it is a wonder that we didn’t kill each other! I remember that when we scored we would use two walnuts as a kicking tee and try to kick the extra point between two steel fence posts. We pretended we were Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Alex Karras, and Ray Nitscke, among others.
Our backboard was attached to the old sheep shed. It was just a square piece of plywood, with rim and net. Hours were spent shooting pretending to be Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, etc. Our dirt court wasn’t quite as reliable as a parquet floor, but we were fooled into thinking it was great. One of my most vivid highlights was at a neighbor’s barn where in 6th grade I made my first left handed hook shot!
As a boy in Michigan, I had transformed our yard (in my mind) into Tiger Stadium, Lambeau Field, and the Boston Gardens. Now, some 45 years after I struck out Mickey Mantle on the sheep shed wall, I can look back at fond memories of the backyard dreaming that has kept me involved in athletics for a lifetime. I’m sure many of you have shared some of the same types of your own backyard dreaming.
That’s the way I see it From the Sidelines.