• Image about Baseball

LONG BEFORE IT was swallowed up in a firestorm of multimillion-dollar-contract negotiations; player strikes; steroid controversies; television control; and, Lord help us, aluminum bats for the Little Leaguers, baseball was our warmly embraced national pastime. Like ol’ Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.”

Peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jacks. Daytime World Series, reading the box scores, and trading bubble-gum cards. From the sandlots to big-league stadiums, it was the rite of spring that beckoned us, one and all.

For my money, the game was never a more treasured part of the American culture than in those bygone days when town ball was the order of the day. There were no fancy uniforms or manicured fields, no trophies for all who played -- just a bunch of marginally talented guys from one community playing against those from the town down the road, briefly dismissing Depression doldrums with nine innings of Sunday-afternoon fun.

That’s the way it was in the heyday of the Waukegan, Illinois, Stanczak brothers, when they -- all 10 of them -- ruled amateur baseball in the suburban Chicago area. It was the same in the verdant Texas Hill Country community of Hye, where the team composed of the nine Deike brothers was the local rage.

Never heard of them? Or of the time they met to play for the All-Brothers Baseball Championship? Go ahead and tilt your seat back.