Maybe, if you were lucky, you had one too. Maybe you had your own patch of earth where your legs and mind might roam and you could make a sport your own.
I once had such luck. It came in the unsightliest of forms, a crater bulldozed in a field of weeds where workers at the cemetery behind our house dumped the browning wreaths and flowers that had been left upon the graves. What else, to my 12-year-old eyes, but a baseball stadium?
The embankments created by the earthmover became my backstop, my bleachers, my outfield walls. The wreaths became my bases. I cleared away the stones and withered sorrow, burrowed a hollow in the dirt wall along the first base line and roofed it with scrap plywood: my dugout.
No parents or pressure ever approached my ballpark, no meddling or minivans, just me and a buddy and our imaginations.
What follows is the story of a family, someone else's, perhaps the most remarkable sporting clan in the United States.
But it's really an ode to a ditch.
Maybe you have children. Perhaps, if you're a sports fan, you've daydreamed of spawning your own brood of athletes, stud running backs or receivers, scholarship shortstops or pitchers, maybe even—if you were feeling frisky enough for five—a basketball team all your own.
It's a young man's dream, before he understands all the circumstances and genes that must align for even one of his seed to become a big-time college athlete ... let alone a half dozen of them.
Meet the Lamoureux family. If only someone, in the spirit of Little House on the Prairie or The Happy Hollisters, had thought to chronicle the Lucky Lamoureuxes in a series of books, he'd have made a killing. Their prairie is North Dakota. Their sport is hockey. Their number is eight: two parents and six children, all six of whom have reached college hockey's highest rung and three of whom have gone beyond it. What would it take to go six for six, to have two All-Americas and two Olympians ... to have that many of your kids end up that skilled and that hungry for excellence in the same narrow endeavor?
It's 8 a.m. on a Grand Forks summer day seven years ago. The Lamoureuxes' neighbors awaken to a thooomp ... thooomp ... thooomp overlaying a whap-whap-whap intermingled with a ch-ch-ch-ch and a tat-tat-tat. Again.