The Annual 117th Street Stickball Reunion
The Barrio Boys & Girls Reminiscence
Distinio Lois, Jr.
As far back as I could remember maybe in the 1950’s or 60’s guys like Sammy Marquez, Charlie Candelaria, Noemi Rivera- Sammy’s sister- Skippy Aponte Robert J. Rodriguez, and Judge Edwin Torres presently New York State Deputy Boxing Commissioner, played their form of baseball which is widely known as Stickball.
I played stickball also with my “home boys” in 104th street between Madison & Park Avenues. It was a ritual game of summer because the season was not complete unless stickball was played.
The broom sticks disappeared from home after Mom would finish sweeping our cold water railroad flat apartments and we would then chip in for a Spaulding high-bouncer ball.
In my day the Spaulding which was bigger and harder than today, cost an “expensive” 25 cents, and if we didn’t have the money, we would cash in the bottles, then buy the ball or as many as we could afford and then the games and the “trash talk” began, “Oye, yo soy mejor que tu”—“Hey, I’m better than you”, but it was all in fun.
Saturday, July 30th 2016th I attended the 19th Annual Stickball reunion of the Acelets & Norseman back in my old turf of 117th street, and as usual we shared the hugs and kisses and emotional gossip before game time after a few beers.
Of course we now senior citizens, fathers & mothers, now proud grandparents or even great grandparents, and retired, reminisced about the decades gone by as we grew up in El Barrio –Spanish Harlem-even though many of us had moved away as far as Florida, Puerto Rico, North Carolina and other parts of the United States, but, we still came back “home” for this classic Barrio reunion.
The questions and gossip always prevailed, “adonde esta fulano” or “te acuerda de ella que se caso con”-“where is he” or “do you remember her who married”?_____!Just a like a birthday or an anniversary we don’t forget our stickball reunion which is family-like and always on our calendar.
Regardless of how inexpensive this great stickball reunion is we would always “chip in” for the food, beers, sodas, chips, and of course the commemorative souvenir T-Shirt, and take pictures.
Sadly many of us have passed away-we are up in our age bracket of the 70’s and 80’s with the “youngest” of us old timers in the mid-fifties-but we still played our stickball.
We are slower, fatter, arthritic, hairless and wearing glasses, or maybe contacts and wigs still trying to look young like the “Papi Chulos” or “Flashy Mamis” of the old Palladium days.
The overall emotion was not only seeing each other again, but now our children and grandchildren would attend these stickball family reunions, not only learning how to play this game, but also networking with the other “young-uns”. A great day was enjoyed by all who attended.
There is a big debate as to how stickball started and by whom, but it had a historical beginning in the 1750’s when poor urban youth started playing it up to the present time. Many folks have labeled stickball “the poor man’s baseball” and the local chosen street their Yankees Stadium.
We would use the selected street manhole covers as our bases, chalk in the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and barring any rain delay we were ready to play this classic game with the support of the local Sanitation & Police Departments, and also the local Church.
Before the games we gathered at St. Paul’s Church to remember our deceased members and also take group pictures. Actually some of the Sanitation, Police and Firefighters, guys like Sammy are also Barrio stickball players who played with us off-duty.
The selected pitcher would one-bounce a slow pitch of the traditional Spaulding ball and if you missed that one swing you struck out. In other areas of the City the batter would “pitch” to himself, and if he missed he also struck out.
Yes, we had our rules such as any ball hitting the roof was a homerun, and if the ball hit a stoop and was not playable it was a foul. There were no walks you had to hit the ball in fair territory.
That is what I remember about the rules, and obviously other boroughs or sections of the City had their own rules, but it was still, is, and will always be, a great classic always bringing the “Viejitos”-Old Timers-together one more time.
As we played the games sometimes 3 to 6, weather and stamina depending, our delicious cultural food-“Puerto Rican Cuisine” would be prepared. The menu would always be the same, roast pork, rice with chick peas, fried chicken, avocado & peppers salad, y “el Mofongo”-plantains-,etc.
In days gone by the 2 baseball greats Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays would stop by and pitch the first ball to start the games while the non-players would be dancing to live music by Tito Puente and Machito.
Now we still dance but to the music of a D. J.-Almando-who in addition to our traditional Latino music he also includes the Doo-Wops of the 50’ & 60’s as we croon and dance having a great time as the others played.
The Boys of Summer Stickball in El Barrio are a forever family, just walk down any street especially 117th between Park & Lexington Avenue and you will see the Old-Timers reliving their youth playing their favorite game, Stickball. You can walk city-wide-the entire 5 Boroughs like the Bronx, Carroll Street, Brooklyn, even as far as Orlando, Florida and you will see this annual Barrio past-time played on any given Sunday.
Some of these Stickball Leagues created a “Hall of Fame” for their past players in additional to an annual World Series type championship tournament.
It is amazing that this annual stickball classic with just a broom stick and a Spaulding may have started a legendary pastime out of boredom, poverty, and the desire to do something positive during the summer months imitating our baseball heroes who played in Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and Yankees Stadium, and it certainly is here to stay.
Retired Firefighter Sammy Marquez, coordinator of the Acelets & Norsemen Oldtimers, Pete “Skippy” Aponte, Manager of the Norsemen Stickball Team for 18 years, Robert Rodriguez, State Assemblyman, Noemi & John Rivera, Maria Melendez, Charlie Candelaria, Carlos Diaz, Chairman of the Stickball Hall of Fame Committee, Judge Edwin Torres, Julio Jimenez and Gilberto Roman also retired Firefighters as well as our families are the heart, soul and the driving force that has led to the great success of this Annual Old Timers Barrio Classic.
See you on the summer of 2017 at 117th Street between Lexington & Park Avenues, so start collecting your broom sticks, buy plenty of Spauldings, and practice because Sammy Marquez his Acelets & Norsemen are “waiting for you”!