My parents have told me that when I was very young I was enamored of balls. They even have photographic evidence of this strange fact. I can’t say that I really recall ever having such an attachment to spheres, but I have no reason to disbelieve them. They tell me I had a fondness for peas because they were, according to me, balls—and I would roll them around on my plate and play with them. I don’t think I much cared for eating them, but rolling them didn’t bother my tongue.
Since then, I’ve grown to enjoy eating peas—especially if they are split and in a soup—and have little interest in their ability to roll about on my plate.
Nevertheless, as I sit here in front of my computer, I can’t help but notice that I have three balls sitting on my desk: of the sort that used to be called super balls. I recall when super balls first appeared. Back when I was in third grade, a classmate arrived with an odd dark gray ball: it was hard and did not at all feel like any ball I’d ever seen or touched to that point. And when he threw it on the ground, it bounced unlike any ball I’d ever seen, flying up above the school roof.
Later, I noticed television advertisements for them. They were manufactured by the same company that made Frisbees: Wham-O. The rubber compound of which the super ball is made was invented by a chemist named Norman Stingley in 1964. He first offered his rubbery concoction to his employer, the Bettis Rubber company, but they turned him down because his compound was, as yet, not very durable. But the Wham-O toy company recognized its potential and quickly improved its durability. By the end of 1965 the Wham-O company had sold more than six million super balls. As time went by, the balls began appearing in other sizes and colors and the price dropped. Eventually other manufacturers began making similar bouncers.
The first super ball I ever owned was about the size of a large marble. I had quite a bit of fun with it, despite the fact that it was really quite useless for playing jacks. Something that I and my classmates, regardless of gender, had developed quite a fondness for by that time. To play jacks, we used a small ball that was red and rather soft; it didn’t bounce unusually high nor twitch about in the rather uncontrollable fashion of the super ball.
As I recall, I got very good at playing jacks. I was able to scoop them up, first one at a time, then two, and so on until in one scoop, I could snag the whole pile on the last bounce. I managed to get competent at it whether we played with the normal, small metal jacks or with the larger, plastic kind.
Another form of ball that I remember from my childhood was the marble. My father introduced them to me and taught me how to shoot them. He gave me a bunch of that he’d had as a boy and taught me about aggies and steelies and cats eyes. I frequented the five and dime and acquired bags full. I even snagged some from peanut butter. For awhile, jars of Jiff peanut butter came with a clear plastic attachment on the lid filled with cats eye marbles.
Later balls in my life include the baseball or softball that my father and I would throw back and forth in the back yard. My dad was an exceptional fast pitch softball player and pitcher; he played on the Air Force team of whatever base he happened to be stationed at and he earned many, many trophies.
Meanwhile, I went on to play baseball in elementary school on school teams. I also remember multiple games of kickball with those large reddish balls that seemed to be ubiquitous in school. We also used them sometimes to play dodge ball.
Once I hit junior high, my only experience playing ball came in gym classes, and then it was always softball; they were afraid we’d hurt ourselves if we played with real baseballs. Of course, that didn’t keep them from letting us play dodge ball—and even wrestling and boxing. But of course neither of those latter two sports involved using balls at all.
My experience with basketball consists entirely of games of horse and I think I played tennis once in high school. Outside of school, especially when we traveled back to Ohio to visit my grandparents and other assorted relatives often meant games of croquet. I don’t remember much about croquet beyond what it was like to place one’s foot on one ball that was touching another ball, and then swinging my mallet to make that second ball scoot away like a scared rabbit.
Today, I’m left with only the three super balls on top of my desk. The only other balls I see are those being tossed around on professional ball fields. My middle daughter now works in the stadium kitchen of our local minor league baseball team—and she gets eight free tickets a month. That makes me pretty happy even if I don’t get to play with any of the balls myself.