Back in 1980 Pete Hamill wrote an outstanding piece for New York magazine about growing up in Brooklyn. Click the link is below.
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…
“Did you hear Bob Murphy last night?” Billy asked the group of boys hanging out on the corner of Windsor Place and Ninth Avenue right outside Red’s shoe store.
Besides the schoolyards at Holy Name, someone’s stoop or over on the Parkside, a street corner in the neighborhood was a popular spot for teenagers.
“Yeah baby, we heard him alright!” Michael acknowledged as he swung his stickball bat in the air just missing Billy’s head.
“Yo motherfucker, watch where you’re swingin’ that thing!” Billy shouted.
Billy, Michael, Peter and JC were so excited that the Mets had beaten the Reds last night in game five of the NLCS. They couldn’t stop talking about it.
(Courtesy of the NY Daily News)
“Back to McGraw, he is going to take it to the bag…ooh Mets win the National League Pennant, the Mets have won the National League Pennant, and there is a wild scene here at Shea Stadium, the fans pouring on to the field, unbelievable!” said Billy, trying to imitate Bob Murphy’s voice. Murphy was the Mets radio broadcaster.
Jimmy, the lone Reds fan in the group stood there watching cars, busses and people go by on the avenue. The four Mets fans wanted to rub it in so bad.
“Hey Jimmy, how did you and your dad feel last night after the Reds lost?” Michael asked sarcastically as he bounced his pink spaldeen ball on the sidewalk.
Jimmy didn’t answer, he acted like he couldn’t hear Michael. But deep down he was hurting; hurting so much he asked his father this morning if he could stay home and not go to school because he knew his friends would be all over him. His dad wasn’t having any of that.
“Guess he is mute,” JC added as the boys laughed.
Pattie was across the avenue coming out of Ballard’s Pharmacy carrying a small bag, walking towards Prospect Avenue.
“YO PATTIE, YOU SEE THE AMAZIN’ METS LAST NIGHT?” Billy shouted across the avenue.
Pattie, like Jimmy, ignored him.
The group of boys loved to break balls.
The Mets fans in the neighborhood, as well as all over New York city were excited. Their team had won the pennant. Farrell’s Bar, over on the corner of sixteenth street was going crazy after the Mets recorded the last out of the game last night. You could hear the roar of the crowd up and down the avenue. It was now time to see who their opponent would be in the World Series; the Baltimore Orioles or the Oakland A’s as the two teams played the fifth and deciding game of their best of five American league championship series later that night.
“Looks like Mr. Cincinnati over here is pretty quiet today,” Michael joked.
Jimmy ignored the cheap shot.
“The Reds had their chance in the top of the first when they loaded the bases against Seaver but couldn’t do anything,” added JC.
“After the Mets got two runs in the bottom of the first, I knew it was over,” Billy pointed out.
Red, the owner of the shoe store came walking out of his store with Carmine, a guy that hung out in the store all day. Carmine thought he was Tom Seaver.
“Yo, Carmine, you pitched a great game last night,” shouted Michael.
The boys wanted to laugh because they always thought it was funny that Carmine thought he was Seaver.
Carmine flashed a smile but didn’t say anything but his friend Red laughed.
“That’s my boy Carmine,” Red added.
The boys walked over to him and lined up to give him five.
“Hey why don’t you guys head over to the school yard and play,” Red said as he clearly didn’t like the group hanging out in front of his store; it was bad for business.
“Alright Red, no problem,” Peter said.
The boys crossed Windsor Place straight for the girls schoolyard.
Jimmy didn’t follow, he walked across the avenue and down Windsor Place.
“Hey Pete Rose,” Billy called out. “See ya next year!”
The boys laughed as they approached the entrance to the yard.
Jimmy made the walk down Windsor Place towards his house. His team’s season was over. The Big Red Machine was shut down for the rest of the year by Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw.
Before we played a game of stickball or softball, before we would choose up sides, what was the one thing the owner of the ball would scream out?
“CHIPS ON THE BALL!”
Playing a street game that included a rubber ball, if you happened to lose the ball you had to pay the owner to replace it.
In the girls schoolyard playing stickball, if someone hit the Spaldeen over the roof on 9th avenue; pay me Reggie!
If you played baseball in the lot and out fouled off a pitch over the fence, game over. Chip in for a new baseball!
Down at P.S. 154’s if someone “roofed” the softball you had to ante up. That is unless Joey Stasiak, Richie or Phillip Mullins were around to climb the roof and retrieve the ball.
To be honest though, I don’t ever recall anyone chipping in to buy a new ball.
Do kids still call, “chips on the ball?”
Let’s not forget the alert, smart aleck kid prior to the game screaming out, “NO CHIPS!”
When many kids growing up in the neighborhood had a backyard to run around in, I had a fire escape.
When Mother Nature was kind to us we would often be found hanging out with some blankets and pillows and even a small radio. I once placed our black and white television on the window ledge and watched a baseball game. The black steel ladder led to the roof top where we would venture up to check out the sights. At night, the view of the Lower Manhattan Skyline was breath-taking.
If someone playing stickball across the street hit a shot from the schoolyard across the street I’d head up and retrieve it. I was the unofficial ‘ball-boy’; one of the many benefits of living across the street from Holy Name was never having to buy a Spaldeen from Ray and Otto’s.
There’s been a tremendous amount of feedback to the Container Diaries Blog. From reading everyone’s comments, what I find amazing is how the generation gap from the neighborhood is stretched from the 1940’s all the way to the 80’s! Today, I will post a few comments from the comments section which might go unread.
From Brian Lang:
I remember when the run (Basketball Games) switched from Holy Name to P.S.154. I would walk down Prospect ave. Stop in the D&R Deli (Dirt and Roaches). It was on the corner of 10th ave. across from Mc Bears. Get a sundew and a pickle. Then in the summer when it was 100 degrees we used to go to key food and get some a/c to cool off and drink a large sundew iced tea in the store without paying. Much props to Father Devlin for bringing the Holy Name summer League back.
From Kevin Molloy:
Thinking of Holy Name cross country back then do you remember how dominant Mickey Reilly was for Holy Name? I don’t think he ever lost a race for the school. Also Mary K was dominant on the girls side.
From Betty Trapp:
JUST FOR THE RECORD, I WAS ONE OF MARYS COACHES DURING HER YOUNGER YEARS AND WHAT A PLEASURE AND PRIVILEGE IT WAS. SHE IS A REAL SPECIAL LADY.
From Mike Purdy:
I also remember Lala…Junkie Joe with the baby carriage. Also on 10th Ave there was that old man, he’d checked your hands to see if they were clean. If they were clean he would give you tickets to Palisades Amusement Park. Unfortunately the tickets were no good because Palisades Amusement Park was closed down. Years later he was found frozen to death outside Connie’s Corner (Windsor and 10th. Ave). Those were the days…
From Michael Lang:
Me & my 17th Street crew use to climb over the high fence at Bishop Ford, go down the metal steps to play 2 on 2 sponge ball in the schoolyard. We use to chip in and buy from either Rays n Ottos or Bargain Land the white baseball spongeballs, somtimes leaving these stores with 12 balls…going home with none ! I use to pitch a double header almost every other day , probably 200 pitches a game. We all sucked, all the games were 1-0 or 2-0 generated by walks …we all struck out 10x each. No pitch count for this magic arm. What a nut i was. Then we use to go down to get this one “AUNT FANNIES FARM” and buy the 1/2 gallon sun dew drinks in all different flavors for like 75 cents and pass it around like a doobie…….oh those were the days !!!!
From Tommy Fields:
Use to play a lot of street hockey, with the metal rollerskates on 11th ave between 16th and the parkside. There use to be a nice gap in the park fence right by 11th, I think the Saxon’s (remember them?) made it with a car jack so they could slip through and get to Suicide easier. Made getting over there easier for sleighriding. Also, it’s on the way to lookout, where Brother John used to run track practice on the “track” which once around was supposed to be a 220. A few of us would go half way and jump in the bushes to get out of running for a while, then jump back in. Remember seeing some funny stuff on that hill in all weather.
Someone mentioned the guy they found outside Connie’s frozen, I remember seeing him shortly after they found him, I think Bobby Cirillo found him all blue.
Anyone remember playing baseball cards? I still remember beating Stephen Keating in a 100er last. I think he’s still pissed. He did have a hell of an arm and if he hit you with a snowball, you knew it. For that matter, a brand new spaldeen hurt as much if it hit you playing swift at 154.
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