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Stickball Rules (for making heroes)

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Show me a kid standing at a manhole cover with a broom handle over his shoulder and I’ll tell you about a young boy who is dreaming big dreams of major league baseball. Stickball creates heroes out of the most ordinary children. There aren’t too many moments in a young boy’s life that lift his spirit as much as connecting a broom handle with a hollow rubber ball and watching it sail in the air down the street.

My first ever at bat in stickball was on First Street in front of the Assumption School in Peekskill, New York. I was excited to play a new game. A game reserved (in my mind) for the older boys just a year earlier. But as excited as I was, I was even more nervous. Would I make a fool of myself and hit nothing but air? Would I embarrass myself in front of the big kids that I admired? The pressure was on – no doubt about it. But I pushed the anxiety down and stood beside the manhole cover with determination. I took the first pitch. “Swing batter, swing batter” they taunted at me from the street. The second pitch came in and I took a chance. That baby flew to the end of First Street and ended up soaring over the Peekskill Museum on Union Avenue. I knew that I nailed it as soon as the broom contacted the ball. I was a hero. At least in my mind.

Let your child be a hero.

Here are the rules for Stickball:

What you need: A broom handle and a hollow rubber ball (preferably a Spaulding)

There are so many different versions of stickball. If you have enough players to have a catcher, this is an awesome street game. Otherwise, it’s nice to have a wall behind the batter with a chalk box for the strike zone. Ideally, you will have a pitcher, infielder, outfielder and a batter (but if played in a courtyard with walls, you can play with as few as two players).

In the street, balls were delivered to the batter either as a slow, one-bounce pitch by a pitcher or al fungo (throwing the ball up yourself and hitting it after one bounce). When played in a courtyard with a wall behind the batter, fast pitch normally reigned. Normally, rules specified that a ground ball, not stopped and controlled by a fielder was a single (others discounted ground balls). A fly ball over the pitcher was a single. A fly ball dropped by the outfielder was a double and a fly ball over the outfielder was a triple. A home run was usually determined by a distance marker. If you played 3-on-3, one of the batting team members would act as catcher if played in the street and the other would be the make-believe runner on the bases, advancing bases as determined by the hitting rules. In stickball, bases weren’t covered defensively, so there wasn’t any tagging out or actual base running. As in baseball, the side was retired after three, but sometimes two outs.

There was also a version of stickball called half-ball, where the pimple ball was actually cut in half for play. The half-ball was held by the pitcher between the index finger and the thumb and delivered with a spin so that it looked like a full ball to the batter. Half balls were easy to hit and thus, one strike was normally considered an out. Stickball, what a game!

Stickball was simply a fun, exciting and hero-making activity that most of us played when we were growing up several years ago. When was the last time you smacked a ball over the roof of a building?

What are your memories of stickball?

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