Back in the day, my hometown, Sayville, Long Island, was in the midst of a growth spurt with neighborhood developments and new schools to accommodate the bursting baby boomer generation. Children were everywhere. Organized playdates and managed time were not yet invented. Kids played outside almost all day. They knew the neighbors, and explored fields and building sites, climbed trees, and constructed forts in the wooded lots. They came inside only to patch up extra bloody scrapes or grab a bologna sandwich. Even if the weather was prohibitive, kids traipsed between each other’s basements or garages to play board games or cards. Daily play was loosely organized and solely negotiated by the kids. If there weren’t enough kids, Invisible Men came to fill in the gaps.
This tale was told by my husband, Matt, who grew up on Dewey Street—a dead-end street in Sayville. Here is his story with Invisible Men.
Back in the day, there was always a kid to play with. My friends and I ran through the Lincoln Avenue fields that were once a horse stable and a poultry farm. On the other side of the wooded lot, was the construction site for the Lincoln Avenue Elementary School. I got to attend the school in fifth grade.
Back in the day, baseball was our passion. We were big New York Mets fans. My friend Alby and I watched the games on black and white TVs. We collected bottles for pennies to buy stale bubble gum packaged with baseball cards at Freddy’s Deli. Alby’s dad took us to games at Shea Stadium. We knew all of the players—their stats, their stances, and their superstitions. At home, we played wiffle ball against the Alby’s shed. I pitched. Alby pretended to be the batters in the lineup. He could hit righty or lefty.
When there were four boys around, we played softball behind Pausewang’s lot. We used a real bat and a softball, but you had to bring your own mitt. A hunk of discarded concrete marked home base which was in front of a huge dirt pile. The dirt pile acted as a terrific backstop. When we were little kids, we played in that dirt for hours with our toy trucks. First and third bases were scrub pine trees, and a piece of wood became second base.
We made up elaborate rules. You pitched to your own teammate. Foul territory was on the other side of the first and third base pines. If you hit beyond second base into the trees, it was a home run. The other team players fielded.
With only four guys, we needed Invisible Men. The batter ran to the base. If you were safe, you pitched to your teammate. An Invisible Man was left on the base. An Invisible Man never stole a base and never batted. He was only able to run the number of bases the batter hit. Invisible Men did not have names. Even if Alby batted as Ed Kranepool, the Invisible Man left on the base was just that—Invisible Man on base.
The softball games lasted until dinner time. We argued. We cheered. We negotiated the winnings and losing all afternoon. Thank goodness we had a full roll call of Invisible Men who could play. Even if we gathered six guys, we still needed Invisible Men to fill the bases.
Invisible Men did not play touch football or basketball with us. They did not go on our exploring adventures either. Invisible Men were called upon for softball only where we could make up the rules and coach ourselves. Even when we grew old enough to be part of organized football and basketball teams, we still met in Pausewang’s back lot to play softball with Invisible Men.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.