In Bensonhurst Brooklyn we played another version of boxball. We used 4 boxes and the pitcher threw the ball bouncing it in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th box in quick succession. The batter had to hit the ball back into the 1st box in front of the pitcher. Caught was out, out of the box was out. One bounce a single, etc. we considered the most advaced form of box baseball and the older kids were very good at throwing the ball in the 3 boxes with all kinds of spins and reversing bounces. You could almost have he ball grazing the ground by the third bounce and very difficult to hit. The games we played that were offshoots of punchball or slapball depended on how many players were available. We called them triangle (3 bases) and squareball (4 bases) They were played the width of the gutter (street). There was a chalk square in front of the batter that the pitcher had to lob the ball into for a strike. The batter could slap any pitch. Justballs was selling spaldeens as of a year ago.
I remember growing up in the Fort Greene projects. I was born 1953, had two older sisters, so I grew up knowing oldies but goodies. In fact, so much that I today sing with an acapella group, The Valentinos. I remember how beautiful Fort Greene was in those days. There were all races and all lived in harmony. I am Puerto Rican, but I grew up with White, Black, Korean, Jewish… it didn’t matter. We were kids and just wanted to have fun. I was born in Cumberland Hospital, lived in 24 Monument Walk and went to PS67. I remember we would be playing all day in Fort Greene and just around my building, they used to have sort of a playground. The kids I hung out with were always older than me I guess because my sisters had no choice and their friends had no choice too. They had to take care of their brothers or sisters. So we also played together. We played so many games in one day from morning till sometimes 1:00 in the morning because in those days the parents would go outside and sit on the benches to talk so we kept playing. The girls sometimes played jump rope, hopscotch, box ball, then we would get tired of that and start playing tag on the monkey bars. Sometimes the guys would join in and, in no time, there would be about ten or more playing tag. Then we would play either punch ball or, “Three Feet Off To Germany.” We also had sort of a small maze (we called it the puzzle) about 3 1/2 feet high and you could stand on this, or walk though it. We also used to play tag on the top and everyone would be on top running from the guy who was “it.” Sometimes we broke our butts because either you went too fast when they were chasing you–you know how guys are, tough and rough. Between the puzzle to the right was this big sort of thing, what we called “the barrel.” It was shaped like a barrel and it was hollow, and sometimes we would get inside–maybe four to five, or as many as we could fit. And then we would have one person–or two at the most–on the top and they would try to tap anyone who tried to get out or in. If you were tagged, you would have to go on top and be it, and so on. As kids, we could go all day. To the left of the puzzle were some logs–oh, about four big log across, and on top were three and so on until there was one on top. Then right next to the logs were three sets of benches. So sometimes we would play tag on all of them. We would make one of the benches home base and another one sort of a holding cage where the others can free you. Sometimes the barrel and the logs would be home base with the puzzle in the middle. It started with one team being “it.” Then, if they got tagged by someone from the other team, they would get put into a holding cage and be guarded. Someone in your team would try to free you by tagging the cage. The rules were: you can only use the barrel which was home base, step to the puzzle (where you better run through and not get caught), to logs which was another home base. Oh… you could only use three steps in either direction, except the puzzle. And oh… over the fence which the guys used a lot was the running area. That was a great game. Also in that area was another object we called the boat. It was long with an opening and, on both the pointed area of the boat and the wide part, were seats. All these objects were made of concrete and painted in colors. Sometimes the guys would sit in there and start singing. And we would all sit on the edges of the boat. It was great. I remember too, some long logs were about 20 feet and at one end it started from the floor and got higher until you could walk it straight and then at the other end it went down again. We use to walk that or play tag on it without falling. Come to think of it, man, we played a lot of diffent tag games. We also played ringoleavio, that was an all day game. And we would have maybe 20 to 40 of us playing and the rule was, “use all of Fort Greene.” Fort Greene had three parts to it, so you could spend all day looking to find someone. If I go on I’ll be here all day. To make a long story short, we played handball, basketball, scullys, Johnny On The Pony, stickball, skating (when they put tar in the play areas). It was great. Great. I wish every kid in the world could have my childhood.
We liked to use spaldeens for stickball, pensie pinkies for punchball, king queen, handball. They had a smoother feel. Also, back in the day, Spaldeens cost 25 cents and Pensie Pinkies cost 30 cents. As I recall, Pensie Pinkies had the Keystone symbol of the State of Pennsylvania stamped on it. Can someone please confirm that for me. Hey, back in Flatbush in the late 50’s early 60’s, there wasn’t much car traffic to deal with, so we really got a lot of use out of our block.
I grew up in the Alfred E. Smith Projects (Catherine and Madison Street intersection) across from P.S. 1. Lived there from 1953-1967 when my family moved to Brooklyn. I remember the Essex Street Markets as well as the “pickle man” on Essex Street. If none of you have not seen it, I highly recommend you watching “Crossing Delancey” starring Amy Irving. It was filmed on location! Shows the handball courts on Essex Street and centers around Amy’s character and the pickle man! Used to go with my mom to the Fulton Fish Market (still remember seeing the dead fish staring at me on the ice there! Later on, we bought fish at a market on Monroe Street. The only supermarket in the area was an A&P that was on Market Street and almost directly under the Manhattan Bridge. I played little league ball at Coleman’s Oval near the Manhattan Bridge (off Cherry Street). Played a lot of stickball at Cherry Street Park, across the street from the then Journal American building on one side and Knickerbocker Village on the other. The Journal American building is now the home to the NY Post. Remember the original hand warmers in the winter time? Right. A 15 cent knish off the knish cart! There was so much to do back there: San Gennaro festival on Mulberry Street, Chinese New Year on Mott Street, the Jewish Deli’s (Katz’s and Issac Gellis were my faves). I went to St. James School on St. James Place. That is the same school that Alfred E. Smith went to. It is also the parish that lays claim to the first American order of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Played lots of chinese handball on St. James Place, on the outside wall of Vanella Funeral Home of all places! Played stickball, slap ball, punchball, stoop ball, all with the Spaldeen. Much prefered that over the Pensie Pinky. I can still hear the echoes of “chips on the ball, 25 cents” before playing a game of ball. Anyone here remember making the chalk socks? You take about 5 big sidewalk chalks put them inside a sock, smash them a bit, tie the sock up and then sneak up on someone and bop them with the sock! It didn’t really hurt but was kind of funny to see the shocked face and the chalk smoke linger a moment in the air over the unsuspecting victim! In my neighborhood we called them Mama Lucci’s. Maybe it was called that because I lived so close to Little Italy. Anyone here remember “salugee”? This was a spontaneous devilish game where you would take a personal item from someone and then keep it from them as you threw it to your friends (keep away). After a while some wise guy would start daring you to “roof it” and you would throw the object towards the roof of the many cold water flats of the area. What rotten kids! I have been contemplating writing a book about growing up in NYC in that time period, illustrating the various street games, rituals, etc. that made that little part of NY so special. If anyone would like to contact me. Bill
Frankly, I never heard of Pensie Pinkies. When I lived Brooklyn in the 30’s all we had were spaldeens. We played all our games with spaldeens: off-the wall, punchball, boxball, stoop-ball and so on. You name it; we played it. Reading the above messages brings on such sweet memories of my early teens. We lived on a block that had four story apartment buildings. My mother would lean out of our fourth floor apartment window and watch us play stickball. Occasionally, if we lost the ball down the sewer, she would wrap 10 cents in a piece of newspaper and drop it down to us so that we could buy a new one.
It was probably the summer of ’70, a very hot and humid Saturday afternoon. I had just finished smoking a joint and was walking up Mott Street toward Houston Street, where I intended to walk straight down to Greenwich Village and sit in Washington Square Park for a few hours. Before I reached Houston, a car loaded with a bunch of guys slowed down and one of the guys, Mike Fink, a good friend of mine, called out to me and asked me if I wanted to go up to the Bronx to play stickball. Right behind the car was another one filled with a few more stickball players. The team from Mott Street were desperate; they were short a player, and Mike, who I had known since we were kids, was almost pleading with me to jump in and go with them. Mike Fink was an outstanding stickball player and he knew that I had a little game in me because when we were kids we would always be playing in the streets of Little Italy together. Stoopball, punchball, kick-the-can, stickball–seems we were always rounding the bases. But, that was then, and now I was about twenty and hadn’t picked up a stick in years–smoking pot and listening to the Beatles and Stones had replaced the childhood games. The truth of the matter was, Mike had invited me because absolutely no one else was around the neighborhood that Saturday afternoon. I jumped into the car and the next thing that I know is that I am in the South Bronx on Fox Street. When we had gotten out of our cars, the Puerto Rican players greeted us with handshakes and smiles. I was surprised how well players from both teams knew each other. They were even calling each other by first names. Simply put, it amazed me. The Puerto Rican team was truly happy to see us and get the afternoon rolling with some exciting stickball. Mike, our captain, knew I had always had a problem seeing and catching fly balls, so he stuck me on first base. I played a decent game, hitting the ball hard all four times and collecting two singles, but we got trounced 8-3. Early in the game a funny thing happened to me. A left-handed hitter sent a sizzling line drive off of my forehead. Man, the ball streamed at me so quickly that I don’t even remember moving my hands an inch. The ball stung me with the force of a powerful overhand punch just above my right eye. After ricochetting off my forehead, the balled ended up near home plate. I quickly chased and retrieved it and the batter wound up on second with an easy double. When I walked back to first with the ball in my hand, our second and third basemen came over to me to see if I was okay. With an angry glare, I sent both of them back to their bases before they even got close to me. Their were hundreds of fans lining up both sides of the streets, standing on fire-escapes, and looking out of windows. And, everyone of them knew I must have been aching from the shot I took, but I did not even go as far as touching or rubbing my forehead. I went back to first and waited for the next batter to hit as though nothing had happened. By now, it was very humid and hot, so I took off my t-shirt and tied a red bandana around my forehead to keep the sweat from dripping into my eyes. Then, after the inning was over, and I came up to bat, so many spectators watching the game began chanting at me: “Com’on Samson, let’s see if you could hit.” I lined a wicked singled past first base, and for the remainder of the day, each time I stepped to the plate to bat, everyone watching the game would chant at me: “Samson, Samson, Com’on, Samson hit the ball.” (I had shoulder length hair at the time) In the second game, we were leading 3-0 in the eight inning when an argument broke out and the Puerto Rican team quit. Our guys must have lost about $400 the first game and we scrapped up about $350 for the second. When the game broke up, we split up our money. I was happy to get my $10 back. That second game, I went 2 for 3 with a single and a double. My 2-game totals were 4 for 7 (3 singles and a double), hitting the ball hard six times and dribbling out once. As we rode back to Manhattan, I learned that the Saturday before on Mulberry Street, the Italians home field, the Italian squad quit on the Puerto Rican team, which was way ahead in that contest late in the game. So, that is why the Puerto Rican team quit on us; they got even. It turned out to be tragic because never again would these two teams play each other. True, all of these guys were stickball players, some were great ones, but even more than just ballplayers, these guys were diplomats. Those days–the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s–weren’t the best times for Puerto Ricans and Italians. But, by going into each other’s neighborhoods, which were considered hostile back then, these guys did their best to smooth the relationship between both etchnic groups. They were more than just stickball players–they were diplomats. And, it was a shame that the rivalry between some mighty big men ended on such a sour note. Anyhow, I tip my cap to you athletes and peace-makers from both neighborhoods. You truly deserve it! God bless!!
I grew up on 181 St. and Creston Avenue, right across the street from PS/JHS 79 (Creston JHS). The Concourse was a block away, which meant the D train was a block away. Jerome Avenue and the #4 was all of 3 blocks away. Fordham Road was in walking distance. And the Paradise was simply heaven. The schoolyard was everyone’s main hangout, regardless of the season. Punchball, stickball (mostly fungo), softball, hoops and two-hand touch all year ’round. When we were just hanging out, we copped some time on the stoop across from the yard. When I was 15 my family moved to Decatur Avenue and Gun Hill Road. My mother worked at Montefiore Hospital, so this was a good move for her. Turned out to be a good one for me, as the guys I met there have become my friends for life. We hung out on the stoop of my friend Errol’s apartment building. It was the perfect place to check out what was going on on the block. Great memories, and two great places to grow up in. Steven Springer 2101 Creston Avenue 3539 Decatur Avenue
I didn’t know Steve, but I got the e-mail notification from Streetplay. I got on the list after talking to some of the members who were exhibiting at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. I grew up in Brooklyn and took a walk down memory lane reminiscing about the good times I had playing punchball, skelley, etc. in the early 60’s. One of my strongest memories was hanging out playing my games on the street outside my father’s laundry on Coney Island Avenue. Anytime, a fire engine went by (and plenty went by that street), no matter what we were doing, my playmates and I would jump up and wave vigorously at the firemen. In those days, they stood on the ladder. They would chuckle and wave back. We would wave and wave until they went out of sight. We just admired them so much. My heart goes out to Steve’s family. He must have been a great guy.