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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Douglas MacKinnon Columns

Half-ball memories hit home

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Published:   |   Updated: August 4, 2014 at 05:32 AM

Think you are good at sports? Fancy yourself talented with a bat in a non-mob-enforcer way? Managed to hit a few home runs in Little League, high school or even college baseball?

Hah. Big deal.

Unless you have hit a home run in half-ball, you've never experienced the ultimate, nirvana, hand-to-eye sports coordination moment. If hitting a frozen rope into deep center off a major league pitcher for a stand-up double is a 10, then hitting a half-ball over the neighbor's chain-link fence 50 feet away is a 100.

Attempting the feat would make most world-class athletes slink away in shame at their utter and complete failure. Where I grew up, smashing that dirty, tiny, white, dancing blur of a piece of rubber across the street, past the gutter, over the curb, over the cracked sidewalk, and finally over that small chain-link fence into the half-dirt, half-grass yard beyond, where it comes to rest next to the snarling junkyard dog secured by a motorcycle chain, elevated you to the royalty of sports.

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What exactly is half-ball?

Well, there are variations, but when I played back in the day on the city streets of Dorchester, Massachusetts, with my best friend, Gerry Donovan, my brother, Jay, and others, it was played with just two ultrasophisticated pieces of equipment: a broom or mop handle you stole from your mom and a hollow rubber pimple-ball you bought — or “borrowed” — from the local five-and-dime store and cut in half.

At least when we played, there were two players to a team: the pitcher and the catcher. The pitcher would stand in one gutter across the city street, with the batter in the other gutter and the catcher on the sidewalk just behind the batter. Both sides would agree upon the distance the half-ball needed to travel to equal a single, double, triple and home run.

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Not that it mattered; Halley's comet might come by twice before someone hit a home run.

One swing and miss was usually one out. Three swings, three outs.

How much did the half-ball dance on the way toward “home plate?” Let's put it this way: If you take the best knuckle-ball pitcher in Major League Baseball and give him a ball covered in Vaseline to throw, it will still look like it traveled in the straightest of lines compared with a half-ball “whipped” by a usually malnourished 10-year-old fueled by soda and Sugar Babies.

For instance, my friend Gerry, at 10 years of age, basically had major league heat. When he whipped that half-ball at you from maybe 30 feet away, you didn't so much see it as hear it whoosh by you like a photon-torpedo fired by Captain Kirk at a Klingon vessel. If you did get a hit, it was only because Gerry struck the broomstick in your trembling hands by accident as you swung it with a motion like you were trying to knock a vampire bat from the sky.

That is not to say real hits were impossible. If you played long enough, you developed the vision and reflexes of a superhero and could make solid contact once in a blue moon.

So, think you can hit or that you're a stud of an athlete? Let's see you smash a half-ball a few times, and then we can talk.

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