StickBall - New York's Game

The following article was rejected by the three major newspapers here in New York City. Good thing, too. If it weren't, it would make it seem like the writers they actually pay to write engaging articles just randomly select words from the English language and place them next to each other.

Stickball is the sport of the streets, the sport of the people. It can be played with as few as two or as many as eight players. The only indispensable equipment is a ball and a stick. Stickball is the quintessence of the national pastime: sole pitcher versus sole hitter, one on one, over and over again. Sure there are fielders and concept baserunners, but they're in the periphery. The pitcher, alone on a "rubber" which is really a chalk-drawn line on the cement, throws everything in his arm's arsenal to beat the hitter, alone beside the strike zone chalk-drawn on the wall with a stick to swat the ball as far as he can muscle it. And the loser gets a chance at redemption with every at-bat.

Stickball may be best known by many from the video footage you see from time to time of Willie Mays playing with the kids of a Brooklyn neighborhood somewhere in the city summer. That was when stickball was played in the street with a broom handle for a bat and a pink "spauldeen" ball. That was when the pitcher lobbed it in on a bounce. That was when you had to hit a ball past four sewers for a homerun. That was then.

Now stickball is primarily played with a tennis ball and various types of stickball bats made of wood and tape or aluminum of a myriad of distinctions in shape. It is played in schoolyards, with a wall providing the backstop for a strike zone outlined in chalk, or a hanging wood or sheet metal slab. Pitchers throw high velocity fastballs, wicked sliders, drop curves, awesome split-fingers, and a bunch of other nasty stuff. Bases are still determined by how far a batted ball travels, with a homerun clearing a wall, a triple hitting the wall on a fly, and a double delineated by a line in the outfield. Any unfielded ground ball that bounces beyond the "infield" line is a single.

One of the greatest aspects of organized stickball is the keeping of statistics. Unlike most things in life, stats allow you to quantitatively compare your talents against your peers in various categories. They let you know when you need to improve, and when you can sit back at the bar and brag.

Stickball is a game you learn growing up in the gray city devoid of lush green fields. Most men in their adult lives move on to softball as they advance in years for two main reasons: it's easier on the arm and there's a keg at second base (providing a terrific incentive to advance that far as a baserunner.) But stickball remains as a fun link to a man's childhood, and a test of his remaining time-eroded skills as a player. It is, really, what the best of baseball boils down to. It is symbolic of every dramatic struggle in life there is: the single mother's struggle against the odds, the alcoholic's struggle against the bottle, the soldier's struggle against his better judgment, the father's struggle against a family history of neglect, the vagabond's struggle against hunger, the thief's struggle against authority, the third-world nation's struggle against disease. It's all there, in every pitch, in every at-bat of a stickball game in a kids' schoolyard, a kids' game played by men not yet ready to be fully grown up.

All across New York City there are a number of highly competitive stickball leagues which have begun or will soon begin their 2000 seasons. On Sunday, May 7th, the Staten Island Stickball League opened its fifth season at two Staten Island neighborhood schoolyards. This year, league founders Eric and Jason Boies and David Claypoole and Jack Dabdoub have merged their original teams (as the aptly named Grumpy Old Men) to combat defending champions The Master Batters, who won the S.I.S.L. title last season in their first campaign in the league. (For weekly updated standings and stats visit:

Let us celebrate another glorious renewal-blossomed spring and another season of stickball in schoolyards throughout the city.

In 1999, Frank J. Marcopolos was the MVP, Cy Young Award winner, and Rookie of the Year in the Staten Island Stickball League. His team also won the league championship on his walk-off homerun in the 16th inning of Game 6 of the World Series.