Street game: Stick Ball

My guess is, if you did not grow up in a big city you probably do not know what stick ball is.
It also may be a generational thing: perhaps younger generations never even played stick ball. Suffice it to say that this popular Street game was a big part of street life in the New York where I grew up.

One must remember, that most of the neighborhoods in the City did not have any parks or fields to play in. Those that did exist were crowded with organized sports and other activities. However, for many, many kids who wanted to get their fair share of baseball, the narrow streets of the city became stadiums for epic stick ball games.

One of the best features of the game was that it could be played with as few as two kids, one on each side, or as many as four to six kids with multiple kids on a side. The game was played with basically two pieces of equipment:

1. A Spaulding rubber ball , and
2. A stick ball  bat : most of the time this bat being a broom stick with tape wound around the end that served as the “grip”.

This Spaulding rubber ball was an amazing invention. Made of hard rubber with a red / pink hue to it, this ball could bounce 12 -15 feet in the air,and ,when struck solidly with the bat, could  travel for at least a city block. We played the game everywhere and anywhere. If only two kids playing , one would pitch to the batter from the edge of one sidewalk while the batter stood on the other side of the street against a building serving as the backstop/ catcher.

Passing pedestrians or vehicles took their lives in their hands.

If actual teams were formed ( 2-3 kids per side) the game was played right in the middle of the street . Each team having a pitcher , a catcher and at least one outfielder.
For the most part, there was no base running and throwing runners out because of the tight quarters. Singles, doubles, triples and Home runs were determined by how far the magical Spaulding traveled, if not caught by the beleaguered outfielder.
I.E.the first manhole cover was a single, the second a double, etc. a whole city block was clearly a Home Run.

Now, if you have been through Greenwich Village or Chelsea, you know the streets were narrow, thus creating some interesting situations. If the batter slammed the ball straight, no issue. However if he hit it to the left or right things got hairy. The Ball would slam off a building and ricochet back into the street making the life of the outfielder miserable. It may also slam off parked cars , causing dents and broken mirrors. Worst case, it would fly though an open window in one of the apartment buildings, or worse yet, through one of the closed windows. This caused an immediate suspension of the game as we all ran like Thieves to avoid being fingered as the culprits. The kid who brought the ball was especially pissed because he knew he would never see that .50 again.

I loved stick ball. I loved the feel of the stick striking the rubber ball and sending it hundreds of yards away. I loved the encouragement of the other kids:

“Nice Shot!!!”

” You really got ahold of that one!!”

I Must admit , I even miss the “ragging”:

“Geez! My Mother could hit better than that..”

“Who taught you to catch??? My sister?!!!!”

We would play until we had to go home and for me that usually was when it bagan to get dark, around 5:30 in the school season. It was just as well, because at that hour people were getting off work and the streets were crowded with pedestrians and cars. Hotly contested stick ball games caused many a fender bender with cars and near decapitations of passers by.

But, what a wonderful way to burn off two or three hours after school.
It would be a mad rush home , a quick change of clothes and then a run to the 5 and 10 cent store to see if we could come up with the .50 to buy a ball. Someone could always be counted on to “lift” a Broom stick from his mom. I remember a number of times Mom wandering around the apartment wondering why she just had the brush portion of the broom and no stick . Of course, I had no clue.

After all there was a game to be played and I had to prove I could hit better than Joeys mother….

Don.

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