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Baseball Crazy in Doddridge County

Text and illustrations by Duane Ellifritt

Baseball Crazy
Duane Ellifritt at bat for the Doddridge County High School baseball team in 1952.

I was raised in Greenwood, Doddridge County, population about 370, where my father operated a small general store next to U.S. Route 50. I was born in 1935, the youngest of four children. The elementary school at Greenwood had grades one through eight, two grades to a room. It was here that I first played softball.

The boys would pour out of the building for recess and lunch hour, and immediately the two largest ones would begin the solemn ritual of choosing up sides. The seventh and eighth graders dominated the game and decided who would play and who wasn’t worthy of notice. I think I was in fourth or fifth grade before I was allowed to play in real games.

One of the leaders would toss a bat to the other one, who would catch it as near the knob as possible. Then the two would go hand-over-hand until the last hand covered the knob, thus winning the first pick. In cases where the knob was exposed, the other chooser would grasp the knob between thumb and middle finger and would then call “hen picks” or “crow picks.” The other player then let go of the bat, and the last holder had to have such a grip on the knob as to be able to throw it in the air 10 feet. There then followed the inevitable argument as to whether or not it went 10 feet! Sometimes this ritual occupied most of the 15-minute recess period, and there was little time left for actually playing. It was better at lunch time, when we had a whole hour to play and argue.

Players were selected in turn, from the best to the worst, with some not getting picked at all. We had a tradition that the little guys, those last picked, could select one of the better players to take his third strike while he ran the bases.

If there were not enough players to field a full team, we played something called “cross-out.” In this scheme, there was no first baseman. If you fielded a ground ball, you had to throw it between the runner and first base. This caused arguments to erupt as there was no umpire. In fact, we spent probably 50% of our recreational time arguing about something!

Some days we played something called “Indian ball.” There was a batter and a pitcher, and everyone else was in the field. If a fielder caught a ball on the fly, he automatically replaced the batter. When a person fielded a grounder, the batter had to lay his bat on the ground and the fielder rolled the ball on the ground toward the bat. If he hit the bat, he replaced the batter. If you fielded a foul ball, the batter stood the bat upright and you had to throw the ball at it. The batter held to the top of the bat and could sometimes tilt it slightly to make the ball miss. More arguments. “You moved the bat!” “No I didn’t!”

We actually played games with other grade schools in the county. I remember playing at Smithburg, West Union, and Carr. The school bus would transport us to the away games, and some of these schools would come to Greenwood. We never had a coach, so the oldest boys would set the lineup and decide who would play where.

I had never played any baseball until WWII ended and all the local men came home.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.