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The Summer Days of Pickup Games and Hanging Out Are Long Gone

Share some of your own memories.

Late July 1978

I wake up and like any other summer morning brush my teeth and my hair. Still a mess so I put my Yankees hat on instead. Sometimes I’ll choose my plastic helmet. I have a few of them, each with a number on the back cut from electrical tape.

The night before, I carefully drew the interlocking NY on the front of a white T-shirt with permanent magic marker. The number on the back was easy because I have a steady hand and making block numbers and letters always came naturally to me.

The pinstripes are a tedious and time-consuming exercise. For that I use a yardstick. I have a thick piece of cardboard that I fit inside of the shirt. It makes it easier to draw and keeps the markers from bleeding through to the other side. No name on the back, of course.

I have a few of them now — a #15, a #44, and a #6. They look almost as good as the jerseys hanging in the window of the sports shop.

I bring my bike up from the basement and make sure the tires aren't too soft. I hate when the frame is dusty so I squirt it with Windex and wipe it down.

The shifters are at the top near the handlebars, one on either side of the stem. That’s where I hook my baseball glove. Always on the left side because weekday morning rides are flat and I only need to shift the right side.

Sometimes I use a backpack if I need to bring a bathing suit and towel. They always have basketballs and volleyballs so there’s no point in taking a chance that mine will get stolen. Sometimes I bring a football though.

By now there’s no need to call my friends before leaving. It’s the end of July. They know where to meet and what to bring. Some of them will walk but most others also ride their bikes.

It’s not even 9 o’clock and people are at the gate waiting for it to open. The park counselors always arrive on time.

Once inside, we talk about stuff like the game last night or the volleyball game at 10. Some of us go inside the old wood building and play ping-pong. It’s like no other ping-pong table you’ve ever seen. The top is about 4 or 5 inches thick and the edges are worn to the point that if you are an outsider, you don’t have a chance at winning.

Others are out on the cement porch where the picnic table is. There are lots of arts and crafts to do, and they usually charge only 25 cents. Braided key chains and sand art are the most popular.

Later on there’s a softball game at Page Park. A bus will pick us up at Stocks and take us there after lunch at Callen School. It’s not the greatest food, but it’s free.

It’s one of those mornings where it’s not easy getting 10 players for our team. I have to sit in the office for at least an hour dialing and redialing in the hopes of catching someone at home. I hate when we have to forfeit because these games are my favorite part of the summer.

Late July 2012

I drove my car over here this morning — to Stocks Playground. The parking lot is paved. The old building is gone. There are no park counselors for the kids to hang out with.

There are only little ones and their parents. There are no teens. The park has been given a facelift. I walk up the tiny hill to Casey Field. There is no room to fly a kite.

Part of the field belongs to the local youth football league and the remaining area is a fenced-in softball field. There’s an ESPN softball league game in progress. Someone knows me and says hello.

The place is beautiful. There just isn't any open space for neighborhood kids representing one park to play against kids representing another park.

My friends and I wouldn’t have been able to play a game of tackle football or throw the Frisbee around waiting for the bus from Rockwell Park to unload the kids from the other side of town.

But I’m not sure that it really matters now. I don’t think too many kids ride their bikes and meet friends for a ballgame at a central location any longer. If they do, I’d love to watch. If only to relive the scene of two captains using the bat to determine who gets to choose the first kid on his team.

If only to see the second basemen tell his own teammate that the kid at first was safe or to see a bunch of bikes leaning up against trees. If only to watch a kid trade a Pujols for a Jeter card and not place it directly into a plastic case.

If only I could walk through the gate at Stocks Playground and play one more game of ping-pong before pedaling back to Surrey Drive in time for supper.

If only summertime would recognize the kid in the homemade Yankees shirt.

Pat zadrozny July 30, 2012 at 12:14 AM
I love your story but it makes me sad too. As I am quite a bit older than you, I remember a time with much of the same freedoms and innocence. Now I don't even leave my grandchildren for a minute to go in the house to grab something. I guess it is the memories in life that sustain us and hopefully your children will have memories of their own .
randy garcia August 03, 2012 at 03:34 PM
God Ron you bring me back all the way back. Me and my brother Everett had a big yard growing up on Pardee St. In Bristol, where the codos are now. Well we was always into sports. We had all the hats too. Remember those cool Montreal Expos hats, and what about the Oakland A's and there colorful uniforms? Well we would wake up in the morning and use all.our moms sugar and salt and did the baseball lines and batter's box hahahshs. We would then have all our friends over and play. Then we would go to the parks, Rockwell, Page, Jennings, you name it we wad there. With all this computer and technology now a day, these days are forgotten. Its so sad to see an 11 or 12 yearold sitting in the house all day. Sad, sad, sad........ We couldn't wait to get up in the morning and put on our gloves or get the hoop ball out. That's all me and Everett did was find a way to play some kind of Sport. I remember making little holes in the yards of our house and neighbors and play 18 holes of golf. We didn't have real golf clubs, so we were like Happy Gilmore, hockey sticks, and the end of our baseball bats lmao hahahaga God I wish I can go back to those days :-). Oh by the way me and Everett would get our butts kicked for using the salt and sugar hahahahs but that was fine by us as long as we won the game at the end of the day. Great Article. Love ya brother. Brought me back to the good ol days
David Richardson August 07, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Great article..I remember my Roberto Clemente home made jersey.. wish I kept on making them. I might have spawned jerseys r us. And I would rich right now.
Ron Goralski September 21, 2012 at 01:29 PM
I wish I had kept mine as well. My youngest made a few several years back and even wore one to school against my pleads not to! Nowadays people will offer to help buy your kid a real jersey before seeing the passion behind them creating thier own.
Ron Goralski September 21, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Sounds like my childhood Randy! I know we played softball against each other back in the day. Not hoops though... I still can't dribble. But I have a sweet backhand shot on the ice or pavement.

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