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The Way Things Used To Be - Stoop Ball

May 17, 2008
Lucky Strike Green had come home from the War, as had Dubble Bubble gum and the pink Spaldeen -- though at ten cents now instead of a nickel. But there weren't many new cars yet, so there was still plenty of room for street games.

Marbles had its short season. In fall and winter we played roller hockey and association football. Punch ball and stickball started in March and went through early fall, but stoop ball was year round. The only thing that stopped us playing stoop ball was too much snow on the ground.

We followed the usual rules: one infielder, one outfielder; nine inning games; if the ball hit the sidewalk you hit from, got caught before it bounced, or went outside the foul lines, you were out. One bounce was a single, two a double, etc. If you hit the wall of the building across the street on the fly and the ball didn't get caught before it hit the ground it was a home run. Imaginary base runners advanced one base on a single, two on a double.

Instead of a stoop, though, we hit off the S-shaped cornices that ran three feet above the sidewalk on the wall of the 88th Street side of 575 West End Avenue. They were perfect for hitting - white seven inch high S-curves that extended out from the face of the walls between the ground floor windows. If you hit the sweet spot on the convex part of the cornice, the ball shot out on a clothesline too high to catch before it hit 585 on the other side of 88th. Hit above the sweet spot and you either popped up or the ball hit above the third floor of 585 and was easy to catch as it bounced off. Hit the concave part of the S and the ball went to the infield. Just as 575 was perfect for hitting, 585 was perfect to have in the outfield. It had crenulations up to the third floor that made the ball bounce off in flukey ways outfielders couldn't predict.

Matt - tall, big hands, good jumper, stood with his back to 585 ready to jump, or turn, back away and catch the rebound. He was our best outfielder, but had a weak arm and couldn't hit.

The two hardest guys to get out were Blue Book and Esau. Blue Book hit with a submarine motion, and could usually drop in singles unless Nate was in the infield. Nate had been a soccer goalie in Switzerland and had the fastest hands on the block.

Esau was our hardest thrower and hit straight-down from so close to the wall he sometimes skinned his knuckles. Spaldeens were very lively balls. Bounce one on the sidewalk and it would go up to the third floor. When Esau hit the point at the bottom of the cornice that spaldeen rocketed off going ninety and bounced two inches past the edge of the sidewalk. Nate had to play back in the middle of the street to hold him to a single.

Neither Esau nor the rest of us had any idea that people all over the southern part of Korea were protesting and striking against the trustee government set up by the U.S. and that we had declared martial law and fired on the protesters.

When Blue Book and Esau were on the same team, they would sometimes load the bases with singles the first few times they got up, then either go for homers or keep singling runners in until they got fifteen runs ahead and won by the slaughter rule. If Esau had been taller and a better outfielder, he might have been Number One in Blue Book's Stoop Ball Hall of Fame. As it was, he only made it on his hitting.

(Originally published at AuthorsDen and reprinted with permission of the author, Herbert Lobsenz).
About the Author
Herbert Lobsenz studied literature at Heights College, NYU, went into the army during the Korean War and, following Robert Jordan of For Whom The Bell Tolls, became an EOD specialist. His second novel, Vangel Griffin (1961), won the Harper Prize and appeared on the Times best seller list. His latest novel, Succession, will be published in May 2008. Visit Old Time Writer.
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