When I think of the 4th of July, I think back to a time of neighborhood block parties, kids running down the street with sparklers, fireworks after burgers, and baseball. These are all images made up from television or movies to me. The concepts are generally foreign when you live in the desert.
I’ve always felt like the 4th of July in the southwest desert was a little more bland. It’s too hot to go out and barbeque. It’s too dry for there to be many fireworks shows. And baseball in 110 degree heat? Forget about it.
This is how I felt until I really thought about it. We may not have block parties, but we do cook-out. Our version of a barbeque is usually a quick run to the grill to flip the burgers then back into the house. But we hang out with family and friends. We celebrate the sacrifices others have made to make this country so great. We remember that we are free because of this date in 1776. And then there’s baseball.
My memory gets altered as I get older, but when I really think back, I was out playing baseball in the heat all the time. Especially on the 4th of July. It wasn’t always easy to get nine players together, and I didn’t always have the equipment, but my friends and I managed to play. I would grab and empty two liter soda bottle and have my friends throw rocks. We would play our own backyard version of the Home Run Derby and watch those little rocks rocket off the plastic bat through the sun drenched sky. When we didn’t have a bat, we would play pickle (if you don’t know the game, look it up. It’s great) until we were ready to throw up from heat exhaustion or dehydration. We would imagine we were Derek Jeter or Omar Visquel throwing down a swipe tag on the runner in the middle. And then there were the actual games.
All we needed were nine players. Ghost runners would hold their positions on the base paths anytime there was a hit, and the batter would then replace someone out in the field. There were no teams. There was just fun. Swinging the bat, running to first, throwing fastballs, and tracking lazy fly balls made up the essence of the game. There were no steals, no singles stretched to doubles, no arguments over a play at second base. If you got a hit, the ghost runner would advance one base. If the hit found the gap, the ghost runner advanced two bases. And a home run was, well, a home run.
I think back on those scorching summer days and even when I had no one to play with I’d find a way. Give me a ball, a glove, and a wall and I could work on my infield game. I could work on snaring line-drives. Constantly throwing the baseball against a brick wall usually ruined it, but I didn’t care. It was summer and I was having fun.
On those 4th of July’s long ago, when it was all said and done, when the night pushed away the heat and the stars began to wink, we would all go home to our burgers and hot dogs. We would wash the food down with a cold soda and ice cream. With a Major League game on the television, we would dream of summers on the diamond. And when the first crack of fireworks peeled us away from the game, we would run outside and watch the show.
The 4th of July in the desert is not much different than anywhere else. It’s just a little hotter.
I’m an adult now and as the spirit and imagination I had as a kid fades, I look forward to the next generation. To those new kids who will fill the streets with games of pickle, ghost runners, and home run derby, I say enjoy the ride. And to the parents of this new generation, I say remember your childhood and Independence Days of the past.
No matter where you are, enjoy yourselves and Happy 4th!