A Game of Swift
You can still find them in obscure places throughout the 11th ward; their colors fading away. They were once ubiquitous in the neighborhood but now only a few remain. Some were perfect squares while others were more like rectangles. Some were intersected with a letter X. Others were dissected to meet a batter’s height.
The spray painted strike zones located on the sides of buildings, train tracks, schools and parks are like volcanoes: part of the local landscape but mostly inactive. The most famous on the Tito Field in Armour Square was lost with the removal of the outdoor handball court. One remains on the old Kang’s Seafood building and one on the east wall at Mark Sheridan.
These boxes were an integral part of every Bport ball player’s development. In front of these cement walls young men were forced to overcome their fear of the high and inside heater. With their feet planted firmly batters learned to defend the box to avoid strikeouts. Hurlers, meanwhile, used these walls to develop their arsenals. Tinkering with a variety of arm angles pitchers would seduce batters with a volley of throws before whizzing the heater inside to terminate at-bats.
These outdoor sessions, which could be timed by our neighbor’s ears as a steady succession of “POPS” by a rubber ball against the concrete backstops, developed a bevy of local sluggers and hurlers. They also assisted the less talented among us in dealing with hard throwers we would be facing down the line like Mike “Mosquito”, Jimmy “Beaner”, Jason Valdez and Tommy “the Headhunter” Kotar.
Many batters whose skills were developed in competitive games of “swift pitch” were able to fight off pitch after pitch against these young guns and eventually earn a base and perhaps and “Augie Doggy.”
Today’s youngsters are certainly not familiar with the term “Swift” let alone the game or the spray painted boxes. They have no idea about the struggles local players overcame to find decent rubber balls, the art of making those suckers last and the trick pitches one can produce using the tears in the rubber. They’ve also never learned the most important lesson the game taught many kids growing up in the neighborhood: how to protect your turf.