I grew up an army brat and our family traveled all over the world as we tagged along with Dad as he was moved from post to post. We lived in some great places over those early years and it always seemed like a new adventure when you would move from city to city or country to country. The one constant in my life was the summers spent in Bloomington, Illinois.
Bloomington is where my parents grew up and where just about every single member of my extended family has lived their entire lives. We would visit there in the summers and stay at my granparents house on Jackson Street. My granparents and my aunt and uncle lived right next to each other…so my sister and I had our two cousins to play with every day. And we played…all day…every day.
Bloomington is a medium sized town in the dead center of Illinois. A town that was full of hard working, baseball loving, middle-Americans. An oasis surrounded by corn. And in “The Cornfield” is where we spent most of our time during those summers.
The Cornfield wasn’t really a cornfield at all and, to tell you the truth, I never actually knew why we called it that. It was actually a vacant lot at the end of my grandparents street that we converted into our own little baseball diamond. The lot itself wasn’t much bigger than just the infield on a little league field so there was a ton of improvisation and “rule making” when we were playing. And the rules changed (as did the game) from summer to summer as we grew up.
When we started we were really young and our game was Wiffle ball. You can’t really hit a wiffle ball all that far so most of the rules were simple and the game was contained within The Cornfield. At this point there was still an old wooden fence surrounding the lot and hitting the ball over that fence was a homerun. Simple rules for a very simple version of the game.
As we started to grow up though we moved on to real bats and tennis balls. Now the field had to be extended. At first hitting a homerun meant you had to hit the ball out of the field and across Jackson Street. But that didn’t last long. Pretty soon you had to not only hit the ball across the street but you had to hit it either beyond or onto Jason’s house (he was the kid that lived across the street and my cousin Joe’s best friend). If you were standing at homeplate Jason’s house would have been pretty much dead center field.
Like every kid’s backyard version of sports there was a ton of arguing over our made up rules, about balls and strikes, about who was out or safe and about whether or not someone had hit an actual homerun. I think that more time was spent arguing than playing but that was just part of the game; part of the fun of those summers.
We would wake up, eat breakfast and head over to The Cornfield to start playing. We would play until we were called in for lunch. We would scarf down our lunches and then head right back out to play some more. It was a very simple time with a very simple game with very complex rules.
Those were fun summers.