Sunday, October 5, 2014

Stickball. Then and now.

Fig. 1.  Every city should have a stickball Hall-of-Fame. Only New York does.
It's been a year since my 1966 Simca 1000 has entered my life. And since last September when we got the car, we've done two basic things with it. 1) We take Whiskey to the beach in Westchester nearly every weekend, and 2) We wander around New York, finding restaurants and neighborhoods we'd be less likely to visit if we had no car.

The Simca keeps on ticking.
Less than a mile from some $20 million apartments, not one or two but dozens of 21st Century palaces built and bought by a new generation of malefactors of great wealth, sits the gritty street shown above. (Fig. 1)

According to "The New York Times," the street was renamed back in 2005 in commemoration of the game. Mayor Bloomberg was on hand, as was ex-Yankee, Brooklyn-born Joe Pepitone.
Pepitone, a three-time All-Star, was no Willie Mays.

I suppose stickball was always a city game. You needed only a broomstick and a "Spaldeen," which could be had--depending on when you grew up--for 15-cents, or a quarter or half-a-dollar. Manhole covers or sewer grates served as bases. No other equipment was necessary.

I'm not sure if stickball is played by kids anymore. I don't see rectangular outlines painted on brick walls like I did when I was a kid, and I suppose the game has been hurt by the rise of video games and the declining popularity of baseball, as well as today's absolute mania for basketball.
From back to front, Jack Sands in the outfield, Chris Palatucci pitching and me at bat. 

Back in the day, of course, when the Polo Grounds still presided over Coogan's Bluff in upper Manhattan, Willie Mays, the great Willie Mays might take a swing or two with the denizens of West 155th Street. I can't quite imagine A-Rod or even Jeter doing the same today, unless they were sure it were either sponsored by Nike or would go viral on YouTube.

Mr. Willie Mays back in the day.
My father, a child of Philadelphia's immigrant west side, taught me a version of the game called "half-ball," though I'm not sure anyone back during my old man's time was educated to the point where they hyphenated compound adjectives.

Half-ball was the same as stickball except you cut the ball in half with a knife and then taped it closed. That reduced the chances of hitting one up on a roof or breaking a window with a line-drive. In those impecunious times it also let you use a Spaldeen after it should have been, by rights, cosigned to the ash heap of history.

109th Street was barricaded off when I drove by this morning and a couple of games were going on. I craned my head to catch a little action but saw nothing.

Of course, I could not play. Not only am I nearly as ancient as the game itself, I am still suffering from a torn right rotator cuff, which I am holding off repairing until I am no longer working for a day-rate.

Further, what with the ongoing crush of uptown traffic and the general automotive mayhem of Manhattan I could neither stop nor park the car and watch. And then, of course, I had more important things to do.

When do we not?

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