“Ok, let’s go play!” My dad says as the three of us jump up and down and head in three different directions.
My youngest brother heads to the kichen, opens up the cupboard and grabs two white paper plates. My other brother (the middle one) hustles to the back porch and grabs an incrediball, while I run upstairs and grab our gloves.
“Greg…where’s your glove?” I holler down the stairs.
“In my room in the corner!” He hollers back.
My mom walks over to the coat closet, opens it up and picks up her and dad’s gloves.
“Let’s go boys before the sun sets.” Dad says as he opens the front door.
It’s a perfect summer day in Spokane, Washington. At 8pm the sun is low on the horizon but still plenty of sunlight for a family game of hot box. As the three of us tear through the front door into the front yard, the smell of freshly cut grass hits my nostrels. That unforgettable smell of summer, of newness, of baseball.
“Put one here,” dad says to my youngest brother. Bryan drops a paper plate at dad’s feet and then walks over to mom about 60 feet away and lays the other one at her feet.
Hot box is a simple baseball game. Two people throw the ball back and forth while the runner tries to run safely between the bases without being tagged. It’s our family game as we rotate through being runners and base protectors. It always starts the same way, with mom and dad throwing the ball to each other while the three of us try and make it safely between the bases.
I’m up first and wait for my dad to throw a high fly ball to my mom. Reading the angle of his wind up I know it’s going to be a high throw and I take off from the plate next to my mom and sprint towards my dad. By the time the ball completes its arc in the air and lands in my mom’s glove, I’m 2/3 of the way to the other plate. I take two more steps and slide into the plate before my dad can catch the ball my mom has thrown and tags me.
“SAFE!” my brother yells from the sideline. That’s your job if you’re not playing to be a base umpire.
“Those aren’t your school jeans are they?” my mom asks as I get up from my slide and look down to find a fresh grass stain on the lower half of my left pant leg.
“No…I changed when I got home.” I reply.
It was something that was drilled into us growning up on the farm. As soon as you got home from school you changed out of your school clothes to your play clothes. To this day I come home from school and have to change right away out of my school clothes. The day hasn’t ended until I’ve changed my clothes…something that to this day my wife teases me about.
We continue playing hot box for an hour. Until every one has rotated through being a base protector and being a runner. All along laughing and joking.
My dad and mom make the best base runners. They’ll take off from a base and get themselves into a pickle in between the bases. We throw the balll back and forth between us trying to tag them so they’ll be out. As we throw the ball to each other we slowly close the gap between us, giving the runner less and less room to run. Until one of us can catch the ball and in one motion tag the runner.
It is a simple game that for an hour a couple times a week transforms our front yard into the base path between 2nd and 3rd base at the Kingdome, home of the Seattle Mariners back in 1988.
Late into my junior high years we played this game as a family and in my mind it was always just a game. Years later looking back, little did I know that what mom and dad were teaching us was a fundamental part of baseball called the “run down”. Something that by the time I was the starting shortstop in high school I was extremely good at. Knowing when to throw the ball to your teammate in a run down is the key, and with years of practice under my belt in our front yard, I had learned to perfect the timing in all the run downs my mom and dad would put themselves in on purpose.
As another baseball season begins today on this beautiful sunny spring day in Seattle, I can’t help but think about all those hours we played hot box in the front yard as a family.
Here’s to another baseball season and to families everywhere who know the joy of summer days in the yard playing hot box.