"Come on, Butch!" I called one day.
"No way!" his voice came back from the thicket.
"It's a rule!"
"It's not a rule. We didn't vote. I can hide all day. Hit the ball!"
I choked up and the next pitch slapped off the house and fell toward me: a swing and a miss, strike two.
"No problem with this guy!" Fenn announced to the weedlot.
"I don't care where you are, Butch! I'm going to hit this over Quall's!"
Fenn wound up and pitched, another slow drop. I timed it and stepped close to the house, swinging almost straight up as the ball fell: contact! The black ball ripped up the wall, popping high into shallow center. It looked like an easy play, but who knew where Butch was? I tore for the porch and saw him as he broke through the four-foot brambles, dived, tassels of weeds flying from his hair, and made the catch, narrating all the way: "...off his shoestrings, ladies and gentlemen. It's a great play by a great centerfielder!"
We had less trouble replacing bats than replacing balls. A discarded mop handle was good for about a day of wall, but the soft wood was no good for strikeout or sockball. Push-broom handles were excellent, having more heft than mop handles. They were longer and we had to saw off about 10 inches to get a sturdy club. The best bat we had, though, was a rake handle we found in a vacant lot. It was smooth and comfortable in our hands, and it lasted three summers.
All these bats were potentially dangerous because they had no bottom knobs, and there were two or three thrown bats per day, but the only casualty I can remember came during a game of strikeout in the rain. I was pitching to Butch, who was hitting lefthanded at the time. There was a light rain, the kind that made sliding into home a pleasure. When Butch swung at my changeup, the savagery of his swing sent the bat winging into the alley, where it took Lane, one of our classmates, off his bike like a scythe. He landed in the wet weeds. I remember we had an extended game-ending argument about whether throwing your bat that far was an automatic out, as Lane sat there with his arms folded over the ribs that had taken the blow. We never saw him take the alley shortcut again.