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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #31: Ladder Ball

"Ball" jokes come standard with every set

There's a lot of fun to be had out there in the yard on a summer's day. Early afternoon, the sun just past its apogee, the fire burning hot and high in the pit as it burns toward cooking coals, the first cocktails of the afternoon mixing merrily in plastic red cups. Adults, sort of, laughing and talking in bathing suits that may or may not ever get wet, grazing on corn chips and bean dip and cured meats, playing a game for something to do as the kids splash off the dock and eat too many cookies. There are many varieties of these games - lawn games, picnic games, whatever - mostly plastic and cheap and only tangentially involving hand-eye coordination.

Each family has their own particular favorites. I'll be candid - Ladder Ball has never really been ours. Oh, we'll break it out at the lake as a palate cleanser from our true game of choice, which we'll get to later. I include it here not because of long familial allegiance, but because it reminds me forcefully and happily of a damp afternoon on St. Thomas in the British Virgin Islands. We were wandering off the beach, seeking refuge from the drizzle, when we came across the outdoor game area of our secluded hotel. "We" in this instance was my wife, our two teenaged sons, and me. The tree-shielded little outdoor field had some picnic tables, horseshoe pits, and the slightly wistful, slightly woebegone aura of a family resort from the Catskills or Poconos, a place that had once been the height of entertainment now relegated to a quaint afterthought. Think the play place at Burger King, or the little game table at the pediatrician's office. Anyway, we had nothing better to do that early afternoon, just after lunch - it was too inclement to swim with any pleasure, too early to drink with any intent. So we set up some Ladder Ball and proceeded to engage in a fairly cutthroat 2v2 contest. You know how families can be.

It's one of those memories that stands out amidst the snorkeling and dinners and historic meanderings from that vacation. It was just the four of us, far from home, having the same kind of fun our grandparents might have had with our parents. It felt timeless and wholesome (except for the occasional foul language). I should add that we also accrued spectators at one point, which heightened the entire experience. A couple of grounds crew guys, locals on the island, took a cigarette break and sat to watch us play, critiquing our form and shouting with celebratory fervor or groaning with disappointment depending on whose balls were wrapping around which bar. It's always better to play to an audience.

Oh, I haven't explained how the game is played. If you really need it laid out to you, get your own set and read the instructions.

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