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Remembering the Days of Stickball

By Mike Silva ~ December 31st, 2009. Filed under: Mike Silva.

Brent Mayne takes a walk down memory lane over at his site The Art of Catching.

He talks about a book he received during the holidays called “The Fortress of Solitude”, which is story of a boy growing up in downtown Brooklyn in the late seventies. Part of the lore of that era was kids playing “stickball” till dark. Brent talks about the innocence of the game when played at that level, and whether it’s possible to return to that today.

I didn’t grow up in the seventies, but coming from Brooklyn we played wiffle ball in the streets, and basketball, either in a friend’s backyard hoop, or at a local park (usually Dyker Park). As Brent mentions there was no umpires, coaches, or organization. You usually had teams of 2 or 3 to play wiffle ball, a pitcher on one side, and a couple of fielders scattered behind you. We played driveway to driveway and had to stop when cars came down the street. You marked off singles, doubles, and triples, and usually a home run was at the top of someone’s house. On Fourth of July we made the eagle on an American Flag an automatic home run. Suffice to say the old “hit it here” sign at Ebbets Field was an easier target.

When playing basketball, you have 3 on 3 teams, or found a way to put together a group of five for full court. If you won, you stayed on the court, if not you waited till there was an opening or went home. As for fouls, you better severely get hacked if you are going to call one.

I never was good enough to play high school ball. Being 5’8 and slow pretty puts you in a one dimensional category. I was a singles hitter in baseball who couldn’t field, and a three point shooter in basketball. I was good enough to round out a team, but not a star. Anyway, there are some great memories from those games, in some cases where more fun than on the organized travel and sandlot teams I played on. No politics, BS officiating, or resentment about playing time. You just went out and played.

Living on Long Island now you don’t see much of that. Even driving through the old neighborhood in Brooklyn I rarely, if ever, see Dyker Park basketball courts crowded. On a nice summer weekend you would have to get there early to get a court. If you didn’t win there was little chance you would get back out there that day because the wait was long. There is nothing wrong with organization, but sometimes sports, even at the youth level, is becoming a job. Everyone wants their kid to be the next David Wright, A-Rod, or pitch like Tim Lincecum. The chances are better you will be struck by lightning, so maybe having some fun should be the genesis of a kids love of the sport.

Instead of arguing about the value of Jason Bay’s five year deal, get six guys together and create a wiffleball game. Put together a softball team (NYBD did!) and work out that frustration about the Mets. The WAR, FIP, UZR, and general baseball commentary will still be there. You might get a new perspective on the game, appreciate the players, and enjoy it a bit more. Rooting for a team and watching a game seems so complicated in comparison to when I started watching it in the mid eighties.

It will be interesting to see if Brent is able to execute his idea of creating a place where today’s kids can return to the innocence of just playing baseball.

Want to know where to find Mike Silva now? He Host's the "Weekend Watchdog” on Long Island’s ESPN affiliate Champions Radio (96.9/107.1FM Suffolk) go to http://weekendwatchdog.com to listen and interact with Mike at mikesilvamedia.com
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