The power of music and memory. That’s what I’m thinking about. Music can unexpectedly trigger memory like nothing else. Last night as I was lying in bed listening to one of my music playlists the song “Does it Really Happen?” from the 1980 album “Drama” by Yes came on. Suddenly I was transported back to my high school days playing stickball in my neighbors back yard and cranking out the tunes on the boom box.

This isn’t city stickball that I’m talking about. That’s more akin to real baseball where you run bases and such. No, I’m talking suburban stickball (also called “Strike Out”). That’s where you paint a strike zone (a box with an X in it) on the side of a schoolyard wall. One player bats with a broom stick and one player pitches with a tennis ball. If the ball hits the strike zone then it’s a strike. Outside the zone is a ball. The game can be played by just two people and if so there are lines in the “outfield” (usually the parking lot of the school) that if reached by a fly ball designate single, double, triple, and home run. If played by four or more people then they can play the outfield and catch the pop flies. No gloves though.

Pitching is also done differently than in city stickball. I’ve never actually played city stickball but in all the depictions I’ve seen of it the ball is lobbed or bounced in to the batter. In suburban stickball, since you are throwing against a wall, the ball is pitched with as much force as you could muster. Sliders, curve balls, and off speed stuff could be thrown as well as the fast ball. Well, my buddy Steve could throw those pitches. I sucked at them.

Sometime in High School Steve and I built our own portable stickball wall. We probably got tired of the hot blacktop of the schoolyard and wanted to play in the grass of our own yards. We framed out a four foot by eight foot wall and covered it with plywood. We stood it up and leaned it back a bit on a couple of long two by fours. After painting a strike zone on the front we were ready to go. We used this portable stickball wall for years. It did occasionally fall forward onto the batter when we didn’t get the lean back of it quite right. But usually in the beginning of the game.

One funny stickball incident came from when we got new neighbors who moved in to the left of Steve (my house was on the right). There were a couple of kids our age and they played stickball with us. At that time we were playing so that we’d hit the ball across Steve’s yards and into the new neighbor’s yard. The new kid’s father used to get pissed that the balls were going into his yard (and in his defense sometimes into his new pool but no one was in it) and he’d come out and yell at us and sometimes cut up our tennis balls. His own kids were hitting the ball into their own yard and getting grief for it. They were a little embarrassed over these incidents.

That did get Steve and I to create a new stickball field turned the other way into my yard. I liked that field best. Between mine and Steve’s yard was a four foot fence. Any ball that made it to the fence was a single but any ball that was caught before the fence was a ground out. A ball hit over the fence was a double and a there was a tree near the edge of my yard that marked triple territory. There was a six foot fence on the far side of my yard and if the ball went over that it was a home run. Those neighbors didn’t mind a tennis ball traveling into their back yard every now and again.

The main quirk of the field was that almost everything had to be hit straight away. There was not much of a left field because that is where my yard ended and behind my yard was a lot of scrub brush. We didn’t want to go chasing balls into there so we made that foul territory. A lot of my power was to left so it cut down on some of my hits. Both of us were righties so not many went to right field.

I was usually second best to Steve in stickball most of the time. I maybe won one of three or four. I was always football first and baseball second and he was the opposite. I’ve always been a good quarterback in football but that is a lot different from pitching. I could make the tennis ball go where ever I wanted it to but that isn’t enough to be a pitcher. You need a curve and a change up too. Steve could make those pitches and I couldn’t. Hitting a curve ball isn’t easy and I had a hard time with it. Steve didn’t have to contend with that because I couldn’t throw one. Hence his edge in wins. I love playing anyway.

It’s odd that a Yes song made me drift back to those days. It’s usually Asia’s self titled album that does that. It was the summer of 1982 (I always remember that because “Now we find ourselves in ’82” was one of the lyrics) and we played that album every day as we played stickball. Good times and music.