I write a lot about my time spent in the boys school yard on Howard Place but don’t forget about the girls yard.
We hung out a lot in the girls school yard which was located on ninth avenue, across the street from my apartment. We did everything in there besides play basketball; there were no hoop courts, just a ton of space and black tar.
Baseball was my second favorite sport behind basketball and when we couldn’t play baseball we’d play stickball. We played against the red brick school wall where we had three strike zones chalked and colored in.
There were three pitching mounds approximately 30, maybe 40 yards away. You had one, sometimes two outfielders behind the pitcher. Most times if the yard was empty, you used the middle strike zone. You played balls and strikes and just like major league baseball you got four balls, three strikes and three outs. If the batter ‘took’ a pitch, and it landed in the strike zone, it would be a strike; outside the chalked box, it was a ball. If there was ever a discrepancy as to whether the pitch was in the box or not, all you had to do was show the batter the Spalding ball with the chalk mark. Here’s what a typical conversation sounded like when there was a controversial pitch.
Pitcher: “That was a strike.”
Batter: “Get the fuck outta here, that was a ball.”
If the pink ball had chalk on it, it was a strike.
When the batter made contact with the ball, you played automatics. A ground ball back up the middle could be caught by the fielder for an out. If it got past them, or they dropped it, it was a single. Over the fence and onto 9th avenue before the double yellow line in the street, was a double. If it hit the sidewalk across the street it was a triple. And for the big one, the all-elusive Home Run, you had to hit it over the store signs! There was the Bob’s Hardware Store, Nat’s Dry Cleaners, United Meat Market, Key Food and The Hallmark card shop signs.
One day we had outfielders on the sidewalk in front of the stores trying to catch line drives and fly balls. The shoppers on the avenue had to duck for cover whenever a power hitter came up to bat. It wasn’t often I got the ball out of the yard; I was more of a singles-double guy. We gave no thought to the cars and the buses going by on the avenue either.
No such thing as ‘play safe’ in our time.
The foul poles were the sides of the rectory and convent. If you hit either building, it was ruled foul.
The power guys would hit blasts over the roofs. This would be my cue to head home, up to my apartment, out my kitchen window, climb the fire escape onto the roof and track down the ball.
During the summer, I’d rack up a lot of spaldeen’s.
We argued during games, laugh at guys who struck out, and went at each other like it was game seven of the World Series.
On the mound when we were pitching we emulated major league pitching stars like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Luis Tiant or if you were a southpaw, you thought you were Jon Matlack.
At the plate with the stick in your hands you were Pete Rose, John Milner, Joe Morgan, Cleon Jones or Ed Kranepool. We watched the players on TV or looked at their baseball card and imitated their batting stance.
Out on the field you went after ground balls like Wayne Garrett at 3rd base or Dave Conception at shortstop.
In the outfield you chased down fly balls like Tommie Agee, Cesear Cedeno or Willie Mayes.
To conclude, we had a lot of fun in the girls schoolyard.
I’ll leave the nighttime activities in the yard for another blog entry…