Mendel Letters 27 — Stickball

Willie Mays, centerfielder for the New York Giants, was famous for playing stickball with the kids in Harlem. None of the Yankees ever played with us.

May 1, 2021

Dear Mendel,

In the street on Jesup Avenue we used to place punch ball, stoop ball, football, tag, and ring-a-levio, but my game, the real game, was stickball, pitchin’ in and hitting out, sometimes with running bases. Jesup was a great place for stickball. For cars it was one-way up a pretty steep hill and traffic was usually light. We played facing up hill, which meant balls would eventually stop rolling and head back down. For punch ball we used a Spalding and for stickball a Pinky. A Spalding cost a quarter but you couldn’t punch it too far so they didn’t get lost. A Pinky cost a dime so if it got lost it wasn’t so bad. On the way home from school we used to check car tires for lost balls and we usually found more than we lost while playing. If no one had a broom or mop stick to use as a bat, we would climb a fire escape and borrow one, although I don’t remember ever returning it. As we got older, I’m guessing about eight or nine, we all had baseball mitts.

Home plate was always a sewer cover in front of 1407 Jesup. Second base was the next sewer up the hill by 1419. In those days it seemed like a long distance though I doubt if it was 100 feet. In pitchin’in, a ground ball past the pitcher was a single, if it landed on a fly behind the pitcher it was a double, and a fly ball past the 2nd sewer was a home run. I was pretty good, but Richie was the best hitter and the best pitcher in our group. If we played hitting out, you hit the ball yourself, and you had to run the bases. First and third were car tires. Second base was the 2nd sewer. I was pretty good at this version of stickball also, but I think Georgie was the best. Richie and Georgie later both made the high school baseball team.

There was one girl who played stickball with the boys when we were in elementary school. I think her name was Gail. By the time we were in middle school she stopped playing.

The PS 104 schoolyard was dominated by older kids, so we had to play in the street. Once we were in middle school we inherited the elementary schoolyard where we could play softball. In softball the top player was a guy named Eddie who lived on Shakespeare and 172nd Street.

People started to move away from the block after middle school. I don’t know what happened to anyone.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.