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One Photo; One Story: A plain wall or Yankee Stadium

On a lazy summer afternoon, a twelve year old stands on the mound at Yankee Stadium and calls the play by play in his best Phil Rizzuto voice.

“On the mound pitching for The New York Yankees, number 49, He’s 5’11’ and has a record of 25-3 from Lafayette, Louisiana. Ron Guidry”.

He squeezes the sponge ball and fires. The ball thunders into the back wall at St. Peter’s School on William Street in Belleville, NJ. The game is underway.

The square on the wall was our catcher and umpire. Hit the white and it’s a strike. Hit the line and argue your point. The pitcher thought it was a strike, the batter, a ball. The arguments lasted a few seconds and the game went on.

There were several walls around town marked like this. There was St. Peter’s, Clearman Field, Number Ten School, and The Rec Center. We played our version of stickball anytime we could.

This was our field of dreams. Instinctively we all knew the rules. A bouncer past the pitcher was a base hit. A ball chopped over the head and to the wall; a double. A line drive hit to the wall; a triple and a smash onto the Knights Of Columbus building or over the billboards or onto Belleville Avenue was a homer.

We played all day. We needed one bat, a few sponge balls from the corner store and anywhere from one to several players. All kids from age eight to about seventeen could play.

We used sponge balls, they cost about a dollar. They were the size of a regulation baseball and were coated with a protective rubber that cracked the more it hit the wall or was batted all over the school’s yard. When they were brand new, you could hammer them a mile. If you hit it square they would make a loud pop.

The softer the ball became the more the pitcher had the advantage. We would play until the white wore off or the ball disintegrated. Sometimes it just got lost after flying out on to the Avenue.

Our imaginations ran wild. We could be anybody we wanted to be. When it was my turn to bat, I was Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, or Rusty Staub. We knew all of their unique batting stances and tried to hit like them.

When I pitched, I was Tom Seaver, Ron Guidry, Dennis Eckersley or Vida Blue. Our schoolyard was Yankee Stadium, Shea, Fenway and Chavez Ravine.

We would play for hours during our days off and throughout the summer. We were ballplayers. We played in organized leagues Belleville Recreation teams, Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion and Varsity. Those leagues were great.

The games on the schoolyard were serious. I will never forget them. Sometimes when I’m in town, I’ll drive by the old places and listen for pop of the ball and see my young friends of games past.

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