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Archive for March, 2017

Growing up, there was a song called the “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.” These days young people find their summers consumed by Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, game apps and other forms of electronic diversion. In the 1950s and early ‘60s, summers didn’t necessarily equate to lazy, hazy or crazy. But they did mean stickball.

Technically, our “sticks” were bonafide baseball bats that got increasingly worn and scuffed up as summer slowly trudged toward fall and another school year. The ball might have been an old tennis ball with much of the air already beaten out of it. That way the ball didn’t have too much pop in it. We were playing in the street (Hawthorne Drive to be specific) in our neighborhood, and our parents didn’t want a fully pressurized tennis ball soaring through a neighbors’ window.

Sometimes we’d switch and play wiffle ball, using a white plastic orb with holes and slits in it, along with a skinny, yellow-colored plastic bat. A skilled “pitcher” could make a wiffle ball zig and zag as it approached the batter. Sometimes the breeze would send the ball sailing all by itself. The challenge for the batter was to anticipate the ball’s path, then strike the round ball with the rounded bat square. The mere description seems to defy some physical law.

There was a Little League field less than a mile away, but we found the neighborhood street adequate. The houses were spaced out far enough, and none of us was strong enough to do much damage even with a solid hit. Every so often someone would bat the ball just right and send it soaring to the Abrams’ front yard. That was an automatic home run.

Since the road surface consisted of a composite of pea gravel and tar, sliding was out of the question. Our bases – usually panels cut from cardboard boxes – were placed in the accustomed diamond shape, although the width of the road didn’t allow for the right-angled diamonds we would see on TV when a big-league game was broadcast.

Stickball would follow breakfast most days, and continue all day – sometimes breaking for lunch, sometimes not – and conclude when dusk became so dark we could barely see the ball. Or when the mosquitoes became a bit too aggressive. Then we’d call it a day and retire to our homes, knowing we’d start the games all over again the next morning.

As I noted, we had nothing like Snapface, Chatbooks, Instagramma, or any other social media, and back then – in the “olden days” – TV consisted of just three channels, the New York City-based ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. So, there was no reason to stay inside riveted to the TV; our only tablets were either pads of writing paper, or the contents of aspirin bottles. Stickball was the perfect way to pass the time, even on the hottest of days.

When I say “we,” I’m referring to my buddies of summer – my next door neighbor Mark (we usually called him by his nickname, “Mouse”); Eddie, my next door neighbor on the other side; Lenny, who lived across Hawthorne Drive from Mouse’s house; and Sy (hardly anyone called him by his real name, Sylvester, except his mother). A few other boys would join us from time to time.

But we also practiced “gender equity,” long before anyone had thought of the term or cared about such a concept. When they weren’t doing girl things, Ann (Mouse’s sister), Carol (Lenny’s sister), Susan, the little gal who lived around the corner, and Janet, who lived across the street on Poe Avenue, would join us. They couldn’t run quite as fast, hit the ball as far, or throw as well as the guys, but it was fun. Especially as we all inched toward puberty.

What if it rained? No problem. We guys had invented a game called “dice baseball,” in which each roll of two dice determined whether the make-believe batter made an out, got a hit, earned a base on balls, or suffered an embarrassing strikeout. We’d write real big league lineups on paper, keep score as with a scorecard at a professional game, then keep track of statistics as the season wore on through the summer.

In those days, the American and National leagues each had six teams, so it was easy to know all the players on every team. But since we didn’t regularly hear baseball broadcasts, especially for teams not playing the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants – and later the Mets, after the Dodgers and Giants had fled from New York City to California’s West Coast. So I pronounced the name of one of my dice baseball players, Julian Javier, “Joo-leeyun Jay-ve-er.” My years of studying Spanish in school were still far in the future.

It’s interesting how baseball back then occupied our minds. Football was a distant second or third in terms of fan interest in those days, along with basketball. Baseball was our year-round sport, with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays and Duke Snider among our biggest heroes.

Baseball was a slow-paced game, as it remains today, but when we were kids, life in general was much slower-paced, and attentions spans weren’t quite as short. So, whether we were engaged in a daily game of stickball, throwing dice for make-believe batters to hit make-believe pitches, or daydreaming about what it must have been like to roam center field at Yankee Stadium, that’s how we spent – or invested – much of our summers. Our version of lazy, hazy, crazy days.

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