Changing times not always for the better

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Ever feel like the world has passed you by?

I sure have.

Maybe it's because I don't text and I don't tweet. I do have a cell phone - with my own personal number, even - but you can almost always find it on a counter at home where it's being charged for no apparent purpose.

Call me old-fashioned. I got along just fine before that first wireless phone call was made in 1973, and I've been doing quite well since, thank you very much.

Not so most everyone else. Just stand on a street corner and count the folks who drive by with one hand on the wheel and the other pressed to their ear holding a cell phone.

From what I've been told about a new cell-phone law that goes into effect next month, they better have both eyes on their rear view mirror.

But I digress.

I managed a Little League baseball team for 23 years before "retiring" following the 2002 season. This spring I've had the privilege of helping out on occasion one of my former assistant coaches, Brian Richard, who manages the Union-Bulletin team in the Pacific League.

It's been a blast. I enjoy being around the kids again, and getting back in the groove of pitching batting practice now and then and lobbing pop flies has been less demanding than I ever expected.

But I quickly realized how things had changed in my seven years away from the game when Brian had to interrupt practice long enough to tell his center fielder to put his cell phone away.

That was a new one for me.

Also, I heard this story second-hand about veteran Wa-Hi baseball coach Keith Gradwohl, who apparently was none-too-pleased at the silent response of some of his players in the dugout following a teammate's solid base hit during a game this season.

"What are you waiting for?" the storyteller quoted Gradwohl. "Are you waiting to text him and tell him it was a good hit?"

I'm only guessing here, but I'll bet Keith Gradwohl doesn't text, either.

Just last week, I visited with Kim Cox, the venerable DeSales baseball coach, who was lamenting that fewer and fewer young athletes were putting in the time it takes to be really good at a given sport. It was Kim's contention that today's youth spend way too many unhealthy hours in front of a television set playing video games rather than being out-of-doors or in the gym playing the real thing.

"I'm just glad," Kim said, "that I grew up when I did."

Exactly!

I've said the same thing myself on more than one occasion. And I've got a few years on Kim.

We didn't have many organized activities growing up in the Upper Midwest in the 1950s. So we organized them ourselves.

I can still remember every morning after breakfast, beginning with the first day of summer vacation, how our entire group would gather at a stone-strewn sandlot baseball diamond behind the school bus garage. We'd top the bat, pick sides and play baseball until the dinner whistle blew. And after our dinner break, we would reconvene and usually play right up until suppertime.

Autumn afternoons would find us engaged in touch football games that very often turned to tackle. And ice hockey and driveway basketball filled our winter evenings.

There were, of course, those rainy days and cold winter nights when we were forced indoors. And since there was no such thing as Play Station 3 and Xbox back then - shoot, we didn't even have a television in our house until I was in high school - we put our imaginations to work.

In fact, some of my friends and I dreamed up a couple of indoor games that we probably should have patented.

One we called Card Baseball, where we combined Topps baseball cards with a deck of playing cards. We used the baseball cards to create our starting lineups, and each turn of the playing cards produced results for the player at bat. An ace was a home run, king a triple, queen a double and jack a single. Every other card represented an out.

We had some high-scoring games, but it kept us entertained for hours.

Another was a basketball game that required a soft, springy towel, tiddlywinks, a couple of small plastic cups and a die. The towel represented the court, the cups were the baskets and tiddlywinks served as players and the ball.

The object of the game was to advance the ball up court tiddlywinks fashion until you were close enough to attempt a shot into the cup. But each time the ball was "plinked" forward, a roll of the die would determine continued possession or a turnover, which would send the ball in the other direction.

And like Card Baseball, we incorporated real-life players - NBA or college - into our game. Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Bearcats was my best shooter.

There was also a store-bought game called Major League Baseball that we all coveted but none could afford.

One summer, the parents of one of my friends offered to buy the game for us in exchange for scraping their house in preparation for a new paint job. We readily accepted the offer.

I learned that summer that scraping paint was about as much fun as a trip to the dentist's office. But at least it kept me outside where I belonged.

Except for those rainy days when it was OK to stay under cover and let your imagination run.

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