Memories of and reflections on play

Falk College Author(s): Rick Burton

Burton, R. (2017-07-17) Memories of and reflections on play. International Journal of Play. Retrieved from


As the last son of two depression-era immigrants, I grew up in Springfield, Mass., across the decades of the late 1950s and all of the 1960s. It was a time when Major League Baseball and the National Football League dominated the three television channels and my friends and I played junior versions of what we saw on TV in our back yards and nearby empty lots.

What has since struck me is the interesting ways baseball could be modified to fit the needs of children (and some adults) at play. In my case, I had two much-older brothers that I often attempted to emulate. However, since my brothers were often gone playing organized baseball or fishing, I needed to play baseball by myself.

So I invented a game where I threw a rubber ball against the side of our windowless garage and designed means for determining outs, hits, runs and errors. I’m not sure if my version would have been called wall ball but I had an intricate set of rules (developed and stored in my 9-year-old head) for playing one-man baseball (as the 1966 Yankees) against the Red Sox, Tigers and Orioles of that era.

Since then I’ve actually conducted a fair deal of research and determined that no other American sport has probably been modified as successfully as baseball – for the purposes of play – during the last 175 years. Want proof? Variations of ‘base ball’ (as the game was originally called) have existed in the form of wooden and cardboard games plus softball, stickball, Wiffle Ball, Nerf Baseball and, in the modern era, baseball games developed for Nintendo Game Boy, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft xBox and Wii. In short, the game’s malleability has long allowed playful modification to fit the era, physical space or an individual’s physical capacity (Burton, 2016 Burton, R. (2016). Loving the game … inside and out. Memories and Dreams, 38(3), 46–47.

DOI: 10.1080/21594937.2017.1348330