Baseball comes to a head in October. The boys of summer yield to Mr. Octobers. The World Series is under way and has taken center stage in the news, conversations, and family living rooms (or man caves) for the next week. Baseball (as well as most games) banter may get heated, but it is not as contentious and dividing as religion and politics.
My husband has always followed baseball since he was a kid. The New York Mets are his favorite team to follow, even though they usually disappoint by July or August. I pay little attention, but I can follow conversations, nod, and offer condolences and yippees when appropriate. Despite this year’s World Series featuring teams Matt does not care about, he is up late watching the games. I catch up on my reading.
My latest book, The Dreams of Singers and Sluggers, features baseball. In 1911, before radio filled the air, the newspapers kept the public in the baseball know. The press reported the scores, highlights, and witty commentary. Although most ethnic newspapers had basic information, it was the English rags that fleshed out the excitement of the game. The written word brought the game into the family rooms, sensationalized scandals, and made the baseball heroes.
In New York City’s Lower East Side, where hundreds of languages and dialects spoke, baseball became the universal language. Men who smoked cigars and played bocce in an alley rehashed their teams’ facts, hopes, and solutions to ailing performances. Boys collected baseball cards from cigarette boxes and studied the players’ stats and faces.
Kids improvised the game to suit their means. Stickball, the urban cousin of baseball, played in alleys and narrow side streets without mitts, bats, or team jerseys. Each neighborhood had their rules, ways of pitching, and running the scoring. The boys negotiated foul territory and makeshift bases. Broomsticks became the bats. Whoever owned the bouncy ball, the most expensive piece of equipment, had first dibs in choosing players. Invisible men played if there weren’t enough fellas.
Stickball was a boys’ game. Girls watched from the sidelines, offering cheers and barbs as the game played out. Added commentary came from women and young girls watching from windows facing the alleys or streets. Part of the game involved constantly chattering and shouting insults at each other to distract a batter or pitcher. It was a noisy game that added to the racket of the Lower East Side. No matter what they said during the game, the kids finished as pals and looked forward to playing again soon.
I incorporated stickball and major league baseball into my story, The Dreams of Singers and Sluggers. The side plot line added to the flavor of the Lower East Side neighborhood and characters in the book. It was also a fun subject to research.
My dad and uncles told their stickball stories. They played on Brooklyn streets before cars cluttered the sides. The teams were a mix of Italian, Jewish, and Irish boys. A mother’s broomstick was “borrowed” and the owner of the rubber ball was manager. Girls looked up from their sidewalk hopscotch games when a ball whopped and sailed down the street. Grandmothers watched from the upstairs windows. Taunts, arguments, and cheers filled the stuffy city air.
Stickball played in the streets and alleys for generations. It forged friendships across the cultural backgrounds. Kids learned to compromise, stick up for themselves and their pals, and make do with what they had no matter where their families came from, how they prayed, or what they ate. Sharing the joy and passion of America’s favorite game embellished their American story.
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PS: If you want to learn more about New York Stickball, check out the Tenement Museum article Remembering StickBall and podcast Our Game.
I will sign books, on November 13th, while celebrating the publication of the three Becoming America’s Stories books: The Heart of Bakers and Artists, The Dreams of Singers and Sluggers, and Becoming America’s Food Stories at the Cool Beans Coffee Shoppe next to the West Sayville Post Office from 1 to 3 pm. It is a wonderful venue. There will be book swag, simple not-too-messy crafts, and delish coffees, teas and pastries. Come on in, bring the kids, say “hi”, sip a favorite coffee or tea, and buy a book.
Have you taken that picture of you reading one of the books or both?! Email it to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) so I can put it in the Readers’ Celebration slide show for the book signing!
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If you had purchased a paperback or ebook The Heart of Bakers and Artists and/or Becoming America’s Food Stories—Thank you!
Take a picture of you with The Heart of Bakers and Artists and/or Becoming America’s Food Stories, and I’ll send you Reader’s Swag and add you to the Becoming America’s Stories Readers Celebration slideshow, coming soon! Kid pics are welcomed with parent or guardian permission. Don’t forget to leave a rating and quick comment on Amazon and/or Goodreads.
I greatly look forward to reading this!
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