Stickball, The Rational Pastime

Stickball, The Rational Pastime

In the Bronx, The National Pastime evolved into The Rational Pastime – Stickball. The year was 1946. No sneaking onto the subway, no three quarters-of-an-hour walk to the Yankee Stadium, no charge of .55 cents for a seat in the bleachers, no coming home with a medium-rare sunburn. Stickball was the glue that kept us home.

Obviously, stickball was rational because a twist of a doorknob, a flight down the steps, and a hop down the stoop led us to an asphalt street, our emerald-green playing field. All we needed was a pink Spalding, (a treasure that came upon the scene soon after WWII), and a broomstick.

Stickball sticks were not sold in a store. Do we have any left over from yesterday? If not, how will we get one? Do we have a Spalding or do we chip in for another one? If there’s an odd man, which side will he be on, or will he be the umpire? How do we retrieve the ball from Gums’ (a janitor) cellar? His German shepherd’s salivating purple tongue gliding over an assortment of razor-sharp incisors were just yearning for an ass to bite.

Refugee Jack, the owner of the candy store was not happy with the broomsticks hidden behind the phone booths.

One day, a police car snuck up on us and took all our sticks. No problem. We boosted Abe to a hanging ladder from a fire escape. “No goosing guys!” Then he began his quest for a broom. There was always a broom being aired out on a fire escape. With the booty in hand, he climbed down, dropped the broom at our feet, and then jumped to the street. On to Nick, the shoemaker who had his pliers waiting in order to remove a nail anchoring a spring holding the bristles together. Once the spring was removed, we could shake off the bristles into an open sewer at the end of the block.

“We’ll play seven innings, right? Let’s go over the rules so there will be no arguments.”

If the ball is caught off the car, without a bounce or if it stays under the car, you’re out. If the ball remains on a fire escape, you’re out and you have to climb up the fire escape, or go to the apartment to get it. If a car comes yell, “Hold it!” and the game stops.”

After the teams were chosen, we left for one of our playing fields, at either upper or lower East 172 St., between Boston Rd. and Minford Pl.

Let the game begin!!

Pink Spaldings were in the air. A well-hit ball ricocheted off Peb’s tenement building and caught for an out. Soon, a line drive struck a housewife sitting on a folding chair. After briskly rubbing the damage, she shouted, “Go to the park, you bums!”  For this poverty-stricken neighborhood a five-cent phone call to the police was out of the question, so the boys played on.

It was the third inning when “Chickee, the cops!” came booming from the outfield. Peanzy grabbed the sticks and ran into his hallway. The rest of us assembled in the candy store waiting for the police car pass.

Moish (The Bambino) was next up. A high fly ball arched towards Krebs in the outfield near Adoff’s drug store. Krebs ran to the ball for a sure out. Coming out of the wings for the Comedy of the Year was Meyer, Nootch the Bookie’s assistant. He came ambling by wheeling his newborn daughter. Krebs, afraid that he might harm the baby skidded to a halt. The ball landed in the carriage.

“It’s a two-base hit!” yelled Alvin.

“It’s an out screamed Krebs. I could have caught it if the freakin’ carriage wasn’t there!”

“Since the ball wasn’t caught,” said Mutt “it’s a ground rule double.”

“What about a do-over?” suggested Moish.

The fact that the ball landed directly into the carriage with an infant inside was irrelevant. Was it a base hit or an out – this was the issue. Meyer, aware that his baby was not harmed, and enjoying the repartee asked if we wanted any action on the Giant game in the Polo Grounds the coming Sunday.

The war was over! The Daily News and Daily Mirror were replete with columns from spring training camps about Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio. Why didn’t we play baseball? An uninspiring game of catch started us off in June. It was cold. The palms of our hands hurt. A few weeks later, the spring warmth brought us back to Crotona Park. After last year’s abuse, our baseball’s cover was replaced by black, sticky plumber’s tape. Our baseball bat was cracked from a hit by an inside pitch. Nick the Shoemaker reset the fractured bat by driving in some nails, and then wound some tape around it. Baseballs didn’t spring off that bat. A dull thud reported that the ball was hit but didn’t go beyond the infield. This wasn’t fun. As the Dodger fans cried, “Wait ‘till next year!” We gladly waited. The broken bat and the tape-covered baseball waited in a closet ‘till next year. Will we wait ‘till next year? Oh no. Let’s go back to East 172 St. where the smooth, gray asphalt and The Rational Pastime beckoned.

Submitted by author of Cold Ground’s Been My Bed, Coming Home and Seabury Place.