The City Kid’s Game
by John Delach
Peter King: September 2021
Edited and Amended: John Delach: February 2023
Excerpts from Peter King’s piece are in italics.
Stickball was the City Kid’s Game often played on local streets especially when the closest park or playing field was too far away, or it was located in another kid’s group’s turf. We learned early not to stray from our own neighborhood and to only play with kids we knew.
If we strayed too far, we ran the risk of running into aliens who were bigger, stronger, faster and meaner than we were. Then it could easily turn into an ugly scramble where it was every kid for himself as we retreated in every direction.
But played on own turf, stickball was a blast.
The rules might vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, but, “on the street the ball was hit on a bounce and the bases were sewers, manholes or parked cars. If there was no running, agreed upon boundaries designated a single, double, triple or a home run.
The block I lived on in Ridgewood, Himrod Street between Senaca Avenue and Onderdonk Avenue, had a moderate grade. By an unknown agreement, we always hit the ball in the uphill direction from the bottom at Senaca. The block had two manholes and any ball that was hit beyond the second cover was deemed to be a Home Run.
Stickball was entirely different from today’s world of travel team baseball. There were no expensive entrance fees or gloves, helmets and custom-made bats that cost many hundreds of dollars.
The only equipment needed was a broomstick and a Spalding (‘Spaldeen’) rubber ball. Most important there were absolutely no adults. Not one parent, coach or umpire. We had to make it work on our own and had no thought of being consoled if we gave up the game winning homer or struck out with bases loaded.
I was a mediocre ball player for most of my career and had a lousy record with longer broomsticks. I couldn’t bounce the ball and still get a long stick around in time to make contact. I was decent with a short sick and I always sort them out from the collection that laid on the street.
I should note that most broomsticks were cut to the owner’s preferred size. I use the word “owner’ lightly because wherever there was a stickball bat, there was an angry housewife lamenting over the destruction of her mangled broom.
Our greatest nemesis was cops in local patrol cars. Stickball was not illegal, but we were an urban nuisance to drivers and landlords. The easiest thing for the police to end a game was to confiscate our broomsticks and we all kept one eye open to spot the patrol cars before they spotted us. If we were lucky, we would see an approaching cop car before they spotted us, shove the bats under a parked car and scatter. The game would resume after they were out of sight unless some fink would make off with the bats before the rest of us returned to the scene of our game.
I did achieve a measure of success at 13 when I grew into the long broomstick. I could finally get the stick around fast enough to make good contact with the ball. With luck, I could drive the ball past the second manhole cover and become a two cover hitter.
Thanks, John, for this fun-to-read story. Do you still play stickball?
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We played a form of stickball in NJ. We used a broomstick and tennis balls and played in the courtyard of a nearby elementary school. Ours involved pitching. There was a rectangle painting on the wall designating the strike zone. We used ghost runners exclusively but the ground rules for what designated a single or double changed depending on if there was an additional fielder with the pitcher. Off the school on a fly was a triple and onto the roof was, of course, a homerun. Any homerun necessitated a climb onto the roof to retrieve the ball. For that we also had to have others looking out for the police.