“Sweet Spot,” by Mike Sugerman
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Baseball is here – spring training at least – and soon, some players will be in the streets with old-fashioned broom handles.
In this week’s “Sweet Spot,” Mike Sugerman took us to the Stickball Hall of Fame.
It’s one of the most evocative phrases in the English language – pitchers and catchers.
Spring is not yet in the air in the Tri-State area, but baseball’s spring training is. And to some New Yorkers, baseball consists of broom handles and rubber balls.
All kinds of memorabilia honoring stickball are on display at the Stickball Hall of Fame in Harlem. One picture shows a game with thousands of people watching from the sidewalk.
“It’s a collection of ball players that played going back into the 40s, and into the present day,” said Alfred Jackson, who is a member. “I have been playing stickball for more than 50 years.”
Notice he said “have been” – he still plays, along with his pal George Osorio. Both are 81 and can still tell you plays from 50 years ago.
“The ball dropped out of my hands, down to the floor, and this guy scored the winning run,” Osorio said as he stood alongside Jackson. “This was, I would say, 1966.”
It was a time when playing in the streets could be frowned upon by the authorities.
“If the cops came, they used to take the bats and throw them down the sewers,” Jackson remembers. “So when the cops left, we’d open up the sewer tops, go down, take the stickball bats out, and keep on playing.”
This was a game for the inner city poor who didn’t have money for baseball equipment, and it was neighborhood versus neighborhood. Some neighborhoods did better than others.
“Because our block never had parking, so we could practice every day – every day,” Carmelo Ramirez remembers. “There was a fire department on our block, so they had to keep a clear street for the engines to come out.”
Now when they play, it’s in tournaments with streets blocked off. They play in Coney Island, Brooklyn during the summer. Jay Cusato, a relative youngster compared with the rest of the group, is out there too.
He made the documentary, “When Broomsticks Were King,” because of the stories his dad, Vincent, told him.
“A big thing that I learned from making the movie is how passionate these guys were about playing stickball, and then while he was making the film, I kind of realized that that passion translated into their friendship.”
Jackson looks around the pictures in the hall.
“Little Louie got hit by a truck a couple of years ago, but he’s still around,” he said of a onetime fellow stickballer.
That’s right — Little Louie. They’re still known by their nicknames.
“Guy named Bouncer; we got Low Key and Cherokee, Pee-Wee, Shorty,” Jackson said.
“Charlie – Charlie Ramirez. But we call him Charlie Horse,” Osorio added.
It brings home what filmmaker Cusato found.
“This passionate thing these guys had growing up together? It’s still kept them this close as they got older. And even though some of them don’t play anymore, they’re still really great friends,” Cusato said.
And they still talk a great game.