Sunday, May 23, 2010


Growing up in the inner city of Baltimore (mine was defined as an inner city neighborhood), we had to find different ways to keep ourselves occupied in the summertime.  Besides street football and bike riding, we would play stepball.

Stepball was generally a one-on-one game.  It was a derivative of baseball in which the "batter" would throw a baseball-sized rubber ball against the front or back steps to see how far it went before the fielder could get it.  Such balls were either bought at one of the corner stores for a quarter, or found floating in Herring Run after a rainstorm.

The best hits resulted from hitting the ball against the corner of a step, especially to get a nice line drive.  Here's how we scored it, depending on whether it was the front or back yard:

  • Single (Front or back): Ground ball that got past the fielder.
  • Double: Fly ball that (F) landed at least halfway across the street, or (B) in the front half of the alley.
  • Triple: Fly ball that (F) landed between the street and the far sidewalk, or (B) in the back half of the alley.
  • Home run: Fly ball that (F) reached the far sidewalk or further, or (B) the garage or yard across the alley.
  • Foul: Usually landing (F) outside the width of the yard where the steps were, or (B) in either of the adjacent yards.  Or, to the consternation of my mother, (F or B) any ball that hit the steps but bounced up onto the porch, often hitting the screen door.
Playing out front was more difficult because of the cars that would often be parked right in our field of play, not to mention the ones that dared interfere by driving through.  But we were less likely to hit the front door with a foul ball, thanks to the huge porch.  On occasion, we'd put a ball up atop the porch, but that takes skill.

A high school classmate of mine found stepball fascinating when he came to visit the summer between  freshman and sophomore years.  Of course, as the son of a bank executive, he'd never been in an inner city neighborhood.  He later showed me a version of baseball he'd invented on his tennis court.  (Other "rich kids" loved exploring my neighborhood.  One wanted to find rats along Herring Run and go walking through the sewers.)

Up at the nearby elementary school, kids often played "wallball", using similar principles for how far a ball would go for what kind of hit it was.  But the batter actually used a bat, standing in front of a rectangle painted on the building.  That way, the pitcher had his own strike zone, and the ball would come right back to him.


Big Bro said...

You forgot about breaking the storm door glass if we played before it was warm enough for the screens to go in. Although we have steps, the yard is not conducive to playing step ball.