Burby’s back in city schoolyards

BATTER’S UP: Adrian Golombek, left, and Greg Majester take a break from practising burby, a baseball-like game.

Like an anthropologist coming across the remnants of a lost sport, Adrian Golombek has rediscovered the squares painted on the sides of city schools in Bloor West.

And he’s putting those old lines to good use for a nearly forgotten pastime: burby ball.

Golombek remembers spending his recesses and lunches at public school playing the baseball-like game that uses those mysterious squares as the strikezone.

“We were playing around and I figured ‘Hey, can we actually get a league going?” he said. “Can we get teams to play from the different areas of Toronto because there are these boxes, faded as they are, all over the walls at these schools.

“Kids don’t even know what that box is doing on the wall.”

Heart heavy with nostalgia for his childhood sport, the 36-year-old City TV broadcaster is now looking to expand his eight-team league into midtown.

Golombek said he’s focused on a community feel. He already has teams based out of Leslieville, the Junction, the Beach, East York, Dufferin, the Annex, Danforth and Roncesvalles.

“It’s a very urban, downtown, street type of game, the same sort of connotations as skateboarding,” he said. “I want people to represent their neighbourhoods.”

Though it’s akin to baseball there are several key differences. Games are seven innings long with only two outs per at bat. At any given time, the defence fields three players: two outfielders and one pitcher.

There are even ghosts appearing, albeit of the runner variety.

“There’s no running around on bases,” he said. “Basically the way you advance on bases is different sections of the field represents a single, a double, a triple.”

When it comes to round-trips however, their age poses a bit of an obstacle.

“A lot of times as kids the homerun is really close and that was sort of it,” he said. “Now as we’re a lot older in our 20s, 30s and 40s, some of these guys can really hit the ball far, so that is a bit of a task to find walls, fences, structures that are far enough in which you can actually hit the ball over.”

Quirky as burby may sound, Golombek has seen renewed interest.

“The response has been very promising,” he said. “I know we’ve got something good here and I know if I just get the word out more, it’ll only get better.”

Still there are some growing pains, especially with hesitant players.

“They were like, ‘You’re kidding?’ With a smile they added, ‘Okay, whatever crazy guy’,” he said, with a laugh.

But for Golombek and fellow burby enthusiasts, it’s hip to be playing in the square.

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