It’s a pleasant surprise…
It’s a pleasant surprise to find this site.
Hello everyone. Stickball allows for great memories and stories. Friends play together and are made. We respect the game. Part of our youth, our culture, and gave us something positive to do. I have some truly wonderful memories of this game, the people who I played with, those times pretty much long gone.
Here’s my story, and I will try to keep it as short as possible, if maybe your time might be limited.
I grew up in Flatbush Brooklyn for most of my life. I began playing stickball at about 10 years old. The older I became, the more I seemed to play. I’m in my forties now. The time for my story spans nearly a quarter century. During the late 70’s to just before 2000.
We played the fast-pitch version. Funny thing, in how I read that the pitcher was supposed to be about 55 feet from the strike box. Well, no one really ever told us (lol) because there was this long crack in the pavement, which couldn’t have been more than 40 feet from the strike zone. I just thought hey, that’s kinda close, but I kept my eyes so trained on the pitcher, it really didn’t matter. Everyone who played there used that same pavement crack for the pitcher’s rubber. (mound).
We rarely played in the streets like many others commonly did. In our neighborhood, we had this playground – a small park, with one of those brick little Parks Dept. Buildings. Its two windows were boarded, but right under each of their ledges, was just the right height to put a strike zone. Some used paint to mark the square. I mostly used 3″ masking tape to box out the zone, so no one would complain. (lol)
Nothing more frustrating, than salivating to get your stickball fix, and someone telling you about marking public property. So, ok, anyway…
We had our own league. Everyone who could play from the neighborhood and closeby neighborhhods. All in all, I must’ve seen at least dozens of different players on a weekly basis, and with only two courts, you know there was a race to get dibs on any one of them first. Sometimes, the courts were less crowded, and man, those were the days.
Our “Stadium”. Small park, with nearby fences and high trees. We usually had person vs. person (singles), Two-man, and Three, even Four-man teams playing. I was game for any combination.
Man, this is bringing the memories. The guys I played with were fierce competitors to the core. No easy game vs. any one of them. So, based on the park’s layout, we had all concrete, a Tall Tree for a Third-Base Line, and the foot of a sliding pond for the First-Base line. You could hit either a Single, which was basically a grounder past the infield or untouched, a Double, which was a line – drive through the base of the surrounding trees or into them, or a Homer, which had to go clear over any one of them in Fair Territory. It was a Natural Mini-Stadium for sure.
The hardest part of all, was just making contact, because that pitcher’s mound was like right on you. We played 7 to 9 inning games.
The players I remember most, were Frank & his brother John, Toto and his Two Brothers Junior & Claude, and some other fellas who were all brothers and lived down the block. John, Dennis, George among them. Then there was Luther, and Gerald, and this guy named Johnny. Duncan, Fritz, Patrick, Will, Tyrone, & so many more. Honestly, they were all very good players.
I know the rest of you grew up with some great players too. Respect there. But to tell you, it was routine that searing line drives would be traded back and forth which were really entertaining. These guys could hit. And pitch. Lots of strikeouts.
How did I do? Well, I can’t or won’t brag. These guys I played with, made me the best player I could be. I had memorable games with all of them. My pitching was almost unbeatable. Consistent in the strike zone, working the corners, and changing speeds and angles into the zone. I gave every single one of them fits. I also was a switch hitter, with great contact & with power.
Mainly, Frank and I played the most it seemed. Just ahead of the guys who were there the most. Him and his brother John, and Toto, and his brother Junior would come out in the Rain with me to play. Duncan & Fritz too. Frank was a monster. Super-fast pitching, like a no-mercy style. When he got hold of one when hitting, well, it was air time as the pink “Hi-Bounce” or “Spaulding” turned into an asteriod headed somewhere. That guy cost me a small fortune in Homers which we at best had a 50/50 chance of finding.
Frank was awesome, and when we weren’t playing each other, we were team-mates in Two-man. I really don’t think we ever lost that much because it was a one – two punch with both of us being excellent pitchers and hitters. Great memories. I really liked those guys, every last one of them.
I guess the highlight years when we all played together for so long covered the very early 80’s to 90’s. Many moved away. We also played together on championship baseball & softball teams, which is probably why the enthusiasm we shared was carried back & forth from the baseball/ softball field to the stickball court. I loved it. Those weekends rocked. I’m so grateful for them.
Two last things.
A. When I was alone there, sometimes I went to practice. Rain or not, I wanted to be there. Occasionally, some younger kid was there, and I could see that desire in his eyes, so then, I tried to teach him a couple of things. What I do know, is how great it felt to see someone much younger, how their face would light up after hitting a liner, or making good contact. Priceless.
I would definitely say I had a great winning percentage over all the years I played. The numbers don’t really matter, but those who I played with were very talented and at times just plain relentless. They never let up, ever. It was because of those guys, that I was able to play Highly Competitive Baseball for many years, and even had a shot at the Minors. I offically ended my active baseball career playing for a CUNY School, which appeared in Two consecutive City Championships, winning one of them. I have no regrets, I Love the Game. Always will.
B. “Here’s Johnny”. The Guy form PR. Pure Boriqua. Man, I respect him. Had one of the most ferocious Stickball Games I ever played, facing him. It was he, who inspired me to learn to switch hit. He did it, and not even knew it.
I don’t remember what the score was, but the game was close all the way through. Fast pitching @ 40 feet. He was a good line-drive hitter, as I was. He was big-talking, and I had to respond. We both knew we could bring it at the most difficult level. I was down by a few runs heading into the sixth inning. He kept telling me how 3 more strikeouts would be the sweetest and there was nothing I could do to stop him.
Top 6, Johnny’s batting. He was full of surprises. He decides to hit from the Left side. I think the count was 2 & 2. He took my next fastball deep, really deep. He said “Yo”, and snickered. Being three runs down to anyone was a rarity for me. Honest. He thought I would come apart. He thought. After that, he hit a single. he was still snickering. I got quiet. I stared him down. Three fastballs, three strikes. His Sixth was done. I was steamed at myself.
I decided to try my hand swinging from the left side. Bad idea. He was one of the better pitchers I ever faced. He struck me out in four pitches. Damn, it was like facing myself. Top 7, I returned the favor. His snicker disappeared. I kept staring him down. Then I got smart. I went back to hitting righty. Another snicker from him, like I couldn’t handle the heat Lefty. I said to him, “we’ll see”. Bottom 7. I doubled from the right side. He looked at me, said I got lucky. Told him “Don’t think so, come again.” I knew he had to throw strikes. He knew it too. Two pitches later, I hit a towering line-drive Homer off his fastball. Clean. Pure line-drive, as best as one can be hit, up & away. Far. Now he turned kind of red. Then he laughed. I just said “Here’s your box, you come take it.”
I was down one run. He struck me out in five pitches.
Top 8. He managed a double and a single. He has runners on first & third. I have two strikes on him. He works the count on me. He doesn’t usually look at a third strike. He did that time. He looked it all the way in to dead box center. My turn again.
Bottom eight. Two strikes on me from the right side. He’s in a groove. “Hit strikes, nothing but strikes I told myself.” Took a ball, close, inside, just missed. He didn’t want me to extend. Yeah, I figured. I moved off the plate. Took another ball outside. Just missed again. We’re playing one out apiece here. I was intent on making contact with anything close. Six fouls later, the count remained 2 & 2. Fastball. Hot. He wanted it to sink, it didn’t. I followed it all the way, and extended. Searing line-drive right over his head through his hands. No way he’s getting that.
Time to take a risk. I go lefty, he snickers again. Swing & a miss. Ball outside. I tracked it good. Swing & a miss again. Now 1 & 2 on me. I wanted a fastball strike, right down broadway. He wanted it too. Sweet strikeout in your face, is what he wanted. I wanted a Reggie Shot… “Not this Time” was what I said strongly to myself after making contact and watching his face go upwards and roll to his left. Moonbeam. Got all of it. I was up one run. He knew he was in trouble. All I needed was a one run lead to protect. Back to back singles, then he struck me out.
Top 9. I wanted three pitches. Didn’t quite get it. He crowded the plate & choked up. He was looking defensive. I had the advantage. Or so I thought. He singled. Hard. Then I looked at him. Saw a snicker again. I said to myself “No way.” Inside pitch. Hit him on the hip. We argued whether he was in the strike zone. I gave in. He’s got first and second now. I get two fastballs in on him. For strikes. Swing & a miss, and a looker for strike two. One strike away from winning one of the most grueling games I ever played.
Ball, just missed, outside corner. The people there were just watching, mostly silent, some yelling, cheering. Even the other game next to us stopped. Another ball from me, outside. I was telling myself to come at him, come at him straight down the middle, and put it on him. I wanted rising movement on this next fastball, harder than I’ve ever thrown. If he was going to beat me, he had to do it on my best pitch. I reared back and fired, really hard, everything I had behind it.
I heard a crack. Thought “no”, “no”, he tagged it. I heard a “Look up, Look up”… and there it was, a towering high pop over the pitcher’s mound. I was an outfielder. I knew I had to stay behind it becuase reaching forward to make the grab was eaasier than reaching back. Spaulding’s spin unpredictably. This one looked like it was spinning back to the hitter. I reached up as the ball landed in my hands, and bobbled away from my side. Second effort and concentration was the only thing I could do to snag it, before it hit the ground. Yep, I caught it.
And there he was, in disbelief. He knew he just missed a Three-run homer which would have put me two runs down going into my bottom of the ninth, and him with the momentum. It wasn’t to be. His face was blank, like in shock blank. All I remember was winning by a single run. My lefty homer. The homer he got from me from the same side, grinning after he hit it. I didn’t thnk him there at the game for giving me the drive to beat him from that side as he tried to with me, but a few days later, I did.
We both got water immediately following the game. I remember hearing cheers and some saying that was the best stickball game they ever watched. Actually, that game could’ve went either way. This guy was just as good as I was. But something about him switch hitting on me, and that grin.
We shook hands, and within a week or so, we were on the same team playing Two-man, with a great deal of respect for each other, the way it should be. My lesson that day was that even an opponent can motivate you, IF you’re ready for the challange.
Thanks Johnny, and all my other friends, who were skilled enough to make my game level rise & grow. I owe all of you a debt of thanks that only sweet memories can provide for their value, even years later. I was and am glad to know all of you.
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