Ghostman on first

kickball

Every now and then, when I hear a certain song, I am immediately transported to another time and place. Music has done that to me for as long as I remember. But the other day something happened that occurs much less frequently. I heard someone say a single word and I had the same sensation. At the sound of that word, I was a nine-year-old, running bases in my grandmother’s side yard.
The word was “ghostman.”
Unlike the current soccer hoopla the World Cup frenzy has caused, the primary game neighborhood kids and I used to play that involved kicking a ball was kickball.
Friends along the East Coast tell me kickball is cool again. I say, “Again,” like it was actually cool at some point in the past, which may or may not be true. Even so, we played it throughout childhood. Kickball was the game of last resort.
It was, and I presume still is, a flexible game. The bases work — even when they’re haphazardly placed, close together or far apart. The only equipment you really need is a ball. The details of the ball are negotiable.
Do kids today make do when playing outdoor games? Do they even play kickball? Do they know the magic the word ghostman conjures?
The other excellent thing about kickball of yore was that the game could accommodate however many people we had. If we had 15 people, that was great — one team had seven and the other eight. More often, we had fewer players, but we could make that work too.
In fact, many times, I played kickball as a team of one against my childhood friend Dayna — and those are the memories the word ghostman brought to the surface.
When playing with minimal teammates, kickball required certain adaptations, and ghostmen or ghost runners played critical roles in our game. Granted, ghostmen were a heck of a lot better at offence than defense, which meant that winning the toss was critical in a game of one-on-one kickball. With the help of a ghostman or two (or even three, if you played your cards right) the top half of the first inning could last longer than back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island.
For the uninitiated, here are the brass tacks of ghostmen: your first player kicks the ball and runs toward first. If the runner makes it safely and it’s time for the next kicker, the runner on the most advanced base has to yell, “Ghostman on first (or second or third).”
Once that critical sentence was yelled and acknowledged by the other team — then and only then, the player would leave the base (leaving base without the yelling and acknowledgement could result in being tagged out) and go back to home to kick again. With the new kicker in place, the process would repeat. The defense had the opportunity to get either the next runner out at first or a force out for the ghostman at another base. For the record, ghostmen run at the same pace as the real runner. The defensive player simply has to get to base before the real runner makes it to first. If the runner and ghostman both make it to base safely and no one runs home, then a runner has to repeat the process.
Ghostman memories made me wistful. Just the word reminded me of a time when everyone around me knew, respected and operated within the rules. Ghostmen required a degree of honor I miss. They also reminded me of everyone being willing to make a situation work for one and all, regardless of what we had or what we didn’t. And finally, I dream of the days when I could leave my ghostman safe on first, assured he will continue the job. Then I jog back home and start on the next task, knowing ghostman was on my team and would work just as hard as I did.
Go, ghostman, go.

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One thought on “Ghostman on first”

  1. This takes me back as well, although our game was baseball, ok, wiffleball, technically, but we always called it “baseball”, maybe to delude ourselves into thinking we were using a real hard ball. We were in northern California at the time, and we used the shortened “ghost” as our phantom runners. Thanks for the trip back.

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