STICKBALL: A taste of the Big Apple in the Cascades

Every Saturday morning at 7:30 sharp about 25 players gather in the parking lot just outside the bocce ball courts of The Cascades, a 55-and-over community in St. Lucie West. These men and women are reliving their youth with a friendly game of stickball.

In 2004, Jack Ross, Howard Bland and Jack Nisbet decided to bring back this popular childhood game. All three were born and raised in different boroughs of New York City, where stickball was quite popular back in the day. Historically, stickball is known to be an East Coast game, played in larger metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

“We talked and remembered how we would play [stickball] until the streetlights came on.” Bland said. “Every day in the summer, the adults would sit on their stoops and watch us boys play.”

Players gather at 7:30 and chat about their week, then the teams are divvied up. John Catinella, at 87 the oldest player, created a board that resembles a mancala game; it contains 40 wooden balls, 20 numbered in white lettering and 20 numbered in blue lettering, in order from 1 to 20. To figure out teams, participants alternate by choosing a ball from each side.

On this uncharacteristically cool day, there were 26 players – 23 men and three women – many of whom were sporting their red ‘Cascades Stickball Team’ T-shirts. As players went up to bat, they chose one of about 20 stickball sticks. Many were personalized and marked with different colored tape.

“Back in the day, we would take the broom or mop sticks from the house,” Catinella said. “Moms really didn’t like that part.” He laughed.

There are no mitts used. Stickball bats are made by the players and a pink Spalding ball is used for game play. The guys from New York joke that everyone pronounced it ‘spaldeen’ and so most people assumed that was the name of the ball.

Barry Worschoufsky, originally from the Bronx, moved to the area in 2006. He explained the scoring system: “A hit in front of the pitcher is an out. Just past the pitcher is a single. Past the trees is a double. Between 2nd and 3rd cones is a triple, and past the 2nd and 3rd cones is a home run. Although in the city, we used the ‘3 sewer system’ instead of cones, meaning the sewer tops acted as those markers.”

Players have fun joking and jiving with one another while getting in some exercise. Many of the players talk about how this weekly stickball game allows them to relive a part of their childhood.

“I participate in a lot of different activities here at The Cascades – bocce ball, pool, poker, bowling.” Max Glickman of the Bronx said. “But this is the most fun of anything I do.”

Article by Rachel Cuccurullo, correspondent

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