childhood, Culture, Sports


It’s an odd word. Historically, ‘scrub’ was a pejorative meant to dismiss people of poor moral content. More recently, it meant to be cleaned whole. And in sports, a match was scrubbed due to some other factor: weather, disqualification, illness, schedule. But for me, Scrub is the game we played as kids in my hometown of Delhi. I was reminded of it as the Yankees and White Sox emerged from the cornfield in Dyersville Iowa last Thursday night.

White Sox and Yankees emerge from the magic corn in Dyersville, Iowa

There are whole libraries devoted to baseball, so I won’t try to start another, but Scrub was a derivative of the game that frankly was a lot more fun than nine against nine players. What made it attractive was the balance of a strict empirical order of play versus wild random luck. You could be at bat, and a moment later, lost in right field.

Scrub used the same diamond as regular baseball. Our school had two diamonds, and any recess in the spring would find them full, playing this all-inclusive game.There were no teams. Everyone was welcome. Players were positioned by how quickly they responded to the invitation to play.

“Who wants to play Scrub?” This invitation was announced usually by the guy who brought the bat and ball.

Immediately, all involved named their positions as they were sequenced: first batter, second batter, third batter, catcher, pitcher, and so on out to left field. You had to be quick to get high up in the order. And there could be numerous players. That is, the outfield could have ten fielders, who were numbered as such.

The play of the game was initiated by the pitcher who as always, trying to strike out the batter. But failing that, a fly ball was an option to be caught out, and the interchange between fielders and basemen was the other avenue to get the batter out. And here, the numbers worked against the outed batter. They went to the very end of the line, maybe as far back as tenth fielder, while everyone else moved up a notch. So it was that everyone had a chance to play every position. What better way to sharpen one’s skills?

The beauty of this game however was the introduction of pure, wild random luck. If the batter popped up a fly, and it was caught, that catcher traded places with the batter, thus skipping to the head of the line. Catching a fly in Scrub was like winning a lottery, albeit a very small one.

An additional merit of Scrub, absent any team requirements, is that no one suffered the ignominy of being the last chosen for a team. I think that’s why I enjoyed Scrub so much.

There may be some baseball allegories in life: ‘striking out’, ‘getting a walk’, ‘popping up’, ‘a home run’ for example but Scrub was a receptacle for all of these. You could be on top one moment, and out in left field the next, and before you knew it, right up to bat again.

Thanks for reading and sharing! I hope you had the opportunity to watch the “Field of Dreams” game the other night. Apart from the crowds who came onto the field, and then invited to walk through the corn, it was an eye opener too: what kind of corn grows nearly twelve feet high??


14 thoughts on “Scrubbed

  1. Brian Mawhiney says:

    Iowa corn can grow to 12 feet high. When corn is planted for silage the entire plant is chopped up and blown into special self unloading wagons that transfer it into silos to age/marinate to be fed to the cattle throughout the winter months when fresh feed isn’t available. Sweet corn has a short stalk so the nutrients go into
    developing the con not a large plant . Hard corn that is grown to produce corn cobs for other purposes also has a smaller stalk than silage corn


    • Thanks Brian. I have written the United Corn Growers Association who helped underwrite the Field of Dreams stadium build. I wanted to know what breed of field corn grew 12 feet. In Illinois, on the other side of the mississippi, our field corn is maybe 7 feet tall, not much more. I feel cheated.


  2. Douglas Foster says:

    Hope this goes through Phil. I’m becoming quite insecure in my old age. I was not particularly good at baseball. They stuck me in goal in hockey because I could not skate particularly well. I suspect that I have an underlying inferiority complex with regard to Phil. Figure skating was indeed lad regarded as a bit on the sissy side, but I envied Phil’s opportunities to skate with all those lovely ladies. Unfortunately, I was an abysmal skater and not much good at hockey or baseball.

    I actually had tighter second cousins on my mother’s side that made the NHL. (Sigh)

    Sent from Doug Foster’s iPhone

    Begin forwarded message:

    > From: Douglas Foster > Date: August 14, 2021 at 11:18:17 PM ADT > To: Phil Brown > Subject: Re: [New post] Scrubbed > >  >  > > Sent from Doug Foster’s iPhone


    • Hi Doug! I can easily admit to being a hay bale in the goalie net, and a dummy on figure skates, but baseball at least excited me to hit, throw and catch. Scrub was a welcoming medium for so-so skills.


  3. martin shelley says:

    nice one !! I loved the book and really enjoyed the film – Scrub? We called it “Workups” and if you caught a fly, the rule was called “Flies take place” (you had to establish that you were playing with that crucial rule before beginning the game, usually by “stamping it” and “double locking it”). nice memories


    • Hi Martin! Thanks for adding to the lexicon of sandlot baseball! I miss the game even today. I pack my glove on trips to Canada in the hopes of finding a game of catch!


  4. I didn’t know about Scrub. My dad used to play a game with us kids called “One-a-Cat” (?). Same as standard baseball, but just a home plate and first base, obviously played when you don’t have enough players. Pickle was another fun game (no batting, all about base stealing).

    BTW, my father-in-law was a minor-leaguer during the 1950s in the Tigers farm system. I gave him a DVD of Field of Dreams as a birthday or Xmas present, but I don’t think he liked it. At least, he never said anything about it!


    • Peter, it always stirs me when I hear Terence Mann’s soliloquy in Field of Dreams. I wonder if your Dad heard it? I reprint it here. Just love the cadence of it:

      Field of Dreams: Terence Mann’s Vision

      People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it.

      They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack.

      And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

      People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.

      This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

      Author: Phil Alden Robinson


      • Baseball having the power to mark time is an interesting concept. I don’t romanticize the sport like some, and I thought the movie was overrated, but being a history buff I like occasionally delving into baseball’s old days. Lots of anecdotes, myths, nostalgia. No, I don’t think Dad ever watched the movie, even though he liked the sport. I have a couple interesting stories about him and baseball, though, that I may share on my blog. Stay tuned, Phil!


      • Great literature around it for sure. It also accounted for hours of my time spent chewing the lace on my glove out in right field waiting for a pop up.


  5. John Smit says:

    When I was a kid, we played scrub at St. John’s school or at Delhi Public. Depending on how many kids we’re involved we had 2 or 3 batters. If you only hit a single and we’re at first, the other batter had to hit you home so it wasn’t unusual for the fielders to get the batter out at first and throw home to get the 2nd out thus everyone moving up 2 spots……I coached girls fastball for years and after practice I introduced the girls to the game called scrub. When practice ended the girls could go home or play scrub. Very few if any went home. I pitched the other coach caught, We’d stay in those 2 positions, thus the line moved quicker. Parents became involved in the game as well and any brothers and sisters of the players. The game ended went darkness set in, just as it was when I was a kid.


    • Hey John! Kudos to you for introducing this great “solo” game to your team. While it rewarded players sequentially, it also allowed for the ‘bluebird’ that lucky instance of catching the fly ball. Mean time, as you described it, it involved teamwork when the batting roster only allowed for two hitters. Just a great pastime where everyone got a chance at every position.

      Just for perspective, at the other end of the scale, is cricket. I played this for a year once, and dismally at that. You had only one chance to be at bat, and when you were out, you never returned for a second chance. Not a fun situation, even if it did offer some chance for teamwork. Still, not as much as baseball. Thanks for writing!


  6. Patrick C. Sommers says:

    Remember the song for the musical Oklahoma: “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” in which the main characters marvel at the height of the corn singing, “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow / The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, / An’ it looks like it’s climbin’ clear up to the sky.” I’d say that would be close to 12 feet!


    • Par, you are correct! I thought of the elephants eye, and couldn’t believe it. Now I do. Still trying to figure out what breed of corn that stuff is. Magnificent. Thanks for writing!


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