In the shadows of New York’s inner city… it is 9am on a hot, humid summer’s Sunday morning. As the sun slowly bakes the asphalt, a group of men anywhere from their 20s up into their 70’s climb up from the subway, , and warmly great each other with hugs and handshakes as they prepare to play a game that rose from the streets of the city. None carry more mystique and legend than stickball. It is so much more than just a game to these weekend warriors. With only a broomstick, a pink Spaldeen and the black asphalt that is the field, stickball has for decades been the crown jewel of American urban sport culture. Legend says that Willie Mays was a four-sewer guy. The harsh summer light that illuminates the game of stickball is as intense as the inner city environment where the game is played. Today, this poor man’s sport is as popular as it was in the distant past of 100 years ago. The game that turned immigrants into New York folk heroes continues to thrive in the diverse cultures and communities of East Harlem. The faces of Latino players in East Harlem reflects the sharp contrast to the old timers of mostly European descent, who long ago moved away from these streets to suburbia. The greatness of stickball is that its simplicity and purity (a bastardization of America’s pastime baseball). Adapted from and closely linked to baseball, stickball, transformed the urban landscape into a dramatic stage where great competitions were played, remembered and retold. No game could be more local. Your street became the ball field. Lampposts, car doors and manhole covers were recast into bases. Your neighborhood was the stadium and your neighbors were the fans, The game today still thrives in this complicated, high tech city we exist in. Many say the game of stickball is not about winning or losing, but to relax, see friends, and, if a good argument breaks out (“That ball was FOUL!!!”), all the better. So a little steam can be let out from a week of 9 to 5. Then, with the final swing another glorious weekend comes to a close. Finally, the shadows provide a respite from the heat, and these players end the day as it began: hugs and handshakes and a new promise to “hang out” next weekend. Same time, same place.
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