#655: Learning Piggy

July 4th, 2016

“Piggy! Piggy! Y’all don’t know how to play piggy?”

We did not.

Blanket, grill, Montrose Beach Park. Fun, friends, three separate dogs, a Frisbee no one used and baseballs we did toss around every now and again.

And the baseballs netted us the invite.

The park is a typical Chicago lakefront affair. Trees, grass, bike path, a beach and miles of free open public land people seem to forget they value whenever someone goes “Ooh, a Yoda museum.”

On July 3, it was packed with grills. Each tree, shrub or spot of shade available had a grill and a family tucked beneath.

Some had tiny setups like ours, just grill, blanket and a cooler for the bratwurst.

Others had sprawling setups with radios, chairs, tables, tents, portable canopies with mesh netting to keep the bugs away from the stations set up for condiments and a buffet of side dishes.

Our advanced scout and fearless grill leader had arrived at the park at 9 a.m. for a 1 p.m. start time. Not only were most spots taken, some people had been there so long they had already set up, started their grills, let the coals get hot and cooked and were eating a full meal.

Then there were the sports. Football, volleyball, catch, Frisbee, various odd plastic lawn games involving hooks or paddles or cups to fling and catch rings or balls.

And 16-inch softball.

The 16-inch softball is larger and squishier than the pastel neon numbers used in gym classes, bar rec leagues and women’s college athletics. It’s pretty rare outside of Chicago. As a kid in Illinois, I thought it was called “Chicagoball.”

As we sat on our blanket in the grill-clustered park, two of our number came back from a game of catch (baseball) and said we got invited to join a softball game. I grabbed my mitt and joined, then saw it was 16-inch and threw my mitt in the grass. You don’t use mitts.

There was yelling and joking and moving the bases time and again based on differing opinions of which picnickers the ball would hit and how close was too close for the bases. There was counting and re-counting to ensure that, yes absolutely we completely and totally did not have enough people for a game.

So we played piggy.

In piggy, we were told, there’s a pitcher, a “back catcher,” a batter and everyone else fields. You catch a hit either in the air or after one bounce — no fumble, “You wouldn’t count that in the hood” — and it’s your bat. The batter keeps batting until someone catches a fly ball.

Pitch (underhand of course), swing and, at the best of times, a satisfying “whump” when the batter connected. People tearing after line drives or just standing waiting for a pop fly to fall down to them.

Eventually, we did get enough for an eight-on-eight game. I played a few innings, got tagged out at first every at bat and went back to the blanket once a new guy came on to replace me. I was told the final score was either 14-12 or 14-9. My team lost, but it wasn’t about that.

It was about play. Simple, perfect play, not like “play a game” but like a child handing over a toy and asking if you want to pretend you’re pirates.

We were a collection of strangers standing in the sun and joking. We laughed and played with people we didn’t know on a sunny summer day.

A different cookout in the same park

An even older ball game

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