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Burr Ball!

I was watching a Braves’ game the other night, and the announcers were droning on and on about how much skill it took to play baseball. They got into the speeds and types of pitches, conditioning and reflexes, split second decision making, all kinds of stuff like that. You can just about imagine the dialogue as we’ve all heard it at least a million times before.

Well, they can talk about pro baseball all they want to in terms of skill, but it runs a far distant second to a real man’s sport - its cousin and derivative, “burr ball.”

For those of you out there who don’t know what burr ball is, its a game we played in my backyard in suburban Juliette back when I was growing up. Ed Jr. was the originator, and no game I’ve ever played, before or since, has proved as challenging as burr ball.

For burr ball, you played a one-on-one match-up. There was a hitter and pitcher, and that was it. An axe handle served as the bat, and the hitter was stationed about twenty-five feet behind our house in the backyard, pointed at the house. The rules were simple - each side had three outs, the games were nine innings long, if you hit one over the roof it was a home run, if you hit one on the roof it was an out if the pitcher caught it before it touched the ground. If he dropped it when it rolled off the roof, you had a hit and a runner on base.

Hitting wasn’t what made burr ball challenging, though - it was the pitching, and what was pitched, that accomplished that. What was pitched was one of three items:

  • Dried up sweet gum burrs that were placed in a pail of water.
  • Dried up hickory nut shell quarters.
  • Full, green hickory nuts.

Think hitting those items wasn’t a challenge? That was only the half of it, cause the man that pitched them to me, Ed Jr., was the recognized Greg Maddux of burr ball.

Let me give you an idea - it would be my turn at bat, and I’d be holding that axe handle, standing about twenty feet from Ed Jr. He’d have a grimace on his face, and would stare at me for the longest period of time. In his right hand he held what might be a burr, a hickory nut, or a hickory nut shell. You never knew which one he would use, although you did know that he at least had a burr in his hand cause of the water that would be dripping off his fist.

He would go into the windup, and let it fly. If it was a burr, it’d come streaking in fast with water flying off it. It was so tiny it was hard to see, and the bad thing was, even if you hit it, it was typically a weak grounder that didn’t even get up on the roof. If he threw the hickory nut, you’d never see it at all - you’d just swing and hope for contact, although that hardly ever happened. Ed Jr. would continually feed you burrs and hickory nuts until he knew you were his.

When that point came, when he knew you were looking burr or hickory, he’d sail up a dry hickory nut shell to the plate, the “flutterball.” It would float in like a butterfly and land right at your feet. It was so slow coming up that you’d swing five or six times before it ever reached the plate and you’d never hit it. Ed Jr. always liked to get strike three on me with the “flutterball.” He was so sure of it that he would even tell me when he was about to throw one, and even then I’d never hit it.

Ed Jr. never lost at burr ball, and I can never remember getting more than two hits off him in any single game. So just remember, when you hear Skip, Don, or any of those guys talking skill, just understand that they are pushing a very over-hyped sport. The number two athletically demanding sport, at best. You don’t believe me? Well, just handpick a few Braves’ players, invite ’em over to Juliette, give ‘em an axe handle, and then put ’em out there with Ed Jr. - the issue will be quickly put to rest then...

Submitted by:

Ed Williams

Ed’s latest book, “Rough As A Cob,“ can be ordered by calling River City Publishing toll-free at: 877-408-7078. He’s also a popular after dinner speaker, and his column runs in a number of Southeastern publications. You can contact him via email at: ed3@ed-williams.com, or through his web site address at: www.ed-williams.com.





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