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Stickball Makes Front Page of the Times (well kind of)


On May 5, 1999, the front page of the New York Times ran a story written about the return of the Spaldeen ball. About 15 Streetplay readers wrote us to make sure we saw it; thanks to all. On Sunday 5/9, Newsday also ran a full page article. Congratulations to Spalding for the good press.

Below we've quoted parts of the articles. We'd love to include the whole thing, but the Times and Newsday will come down and beat us up (they're a lot bigger than we are) - so please enjoy the excerpts shown below.


New Life For an Old Favorite
The Spaldeen, Stickball's Bouncy Foundation Makes a Comeback
by Ginger Thompson 5/5/1999
New York Times Metro Section [link to article on NYTimes.com]

For the first time since it was discontinued two decades ago, the spaldeen is scheduled to go on sale again this month at sporting goods stores across the city. The ball inspired urban kids, with limited access to green space, to turn their neighborhood streets into playing fields for made-up games like hit-the-penny and box ball.

Modeled after America's national pastime -- with spaldeens for baseballs, broomsticks for bats and manholes and fire hydrants for bases -- the game became more than New York's favorite sport. Former players like Davis said it was the soul of the street. And New Yorkers with thick accents gave the ball its name when they pronounced Spalding as spaldeen.

The old spaldeens cost a quarter and sat on candy counters in most corner stores. The new ball will be sold in sporting goods stores and cost $2.

Neighbors used to play pickup games after work or school. Today, many stickball players are organized into leagues with scheduled tournaments.

And many play on open fields or softball diamonds rather than asphalt. And in the Major Stickball League, pitchers throw straight at home plate instead of bouncing the ball."

Streetplay Note - the article then discusses the history of the Spaldeen

Spaldeens were first sold in the 1950's by the Spalding Company, a leading producer of tennis balls. Rather than discarding surplus tennis ball cores -- spongy, hollow rubber spheres the color of bubble gum -- Spalding officials decided to sell them cheap to five-and-dime stores around New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

Although the ball was fiercely popular among young people in these big urban centers, Spalding officials stopped selling it in 1978 when the company moved its tennis ball plant to Taiwan.

In the last couple of years, however, company officials said they had been swamped by letters and E-mail messages from consumers, mostly New Yorkers and New Yorkers transplanted across the country, pleading for spaldeens.

Officials at Spalding, which is marketing the new ball as the Spalding High-Bounce, said they were talking with city officials about setting up a stickball tournament this summer. And DK Publishing has released a new book, Last Licks, about a girl who loves to play with a spaldeen.

The author of the book, Cari Best, has been touring schools across the city to teach children how to play games like hit-the-penny and box ball. Ms. Best, who grew up in Queens playing similar games, said she hoped to inspire children in the age of technology how to use a simple ball and their imaginations to come up with new ways to play."

Streetplay note - We are hoping she will be available for an interview here at Streetplay.com

The sight of a new spaldeen sent many others back into their childhoods. Bouncing a ball back and forth to each other, Manager Joe Torre of the Yankees and his brother Frank recalled collecting milk and soda bottles to get money to buy spaldeens.

We'd play with them all the time," said Joe Torre, ticking off games he and his friends created. "Stickball, one-bounce, boom."

His brother added, "We did break a few windows here and there."

And Tommy Holmes, another former major league player who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, bounced the ball and gushed: "This is a beauty. This thing bounces great. The right swing, and this thing could go a mile."

Streetplay note - The article then goes on quote Robert (Diz) DiFiore, a resident of Armonk, N.Y., who developed a whole process to creating a ball for stickball when Spalding stopped making them.


Back in the Pink
By Steve Jacobson, 5/9/99 Newsday [link to article on Newsday.com]

Now is the time for all good parents to come to the aid of their children.

The Spaldeen is back. Great googamooga! What a pity that our children missed out on it for 20 years. Boy, do we need it now! It is the responsibility, duty and obligation of those of us who remember to teach the joys of the Spaldeen. Turn off the TV and the numbing electronic games and teach the games that belong in the time capsule of the free mind. Neither a scheduled time nor a Hittleman's Bakery shirt is necessary."

Streetplay Note - What we particularly like about this article is its emphasis on teaching the game to kids

Teach them punchball, stickball, triangle, boxball, stoopball, king, I declare war, and the others you and I will get to later - and more only you recall.

If you grew up here, which includes city and suburbia, you need no identification for the ball or the games. In case you just moved from Mars or Kansas City, the Spaldeen was a hollow rubber ball the color of bubble gum. It was called Spal-DEEN because the manufacturer stamped it Spalding, and that's how we said it.

The Spaldeen had limitless limitations. If you had the ball in your pocket, you could make up a game to play with your sister or little brother while you were out with your parents. You could even create a game with half a broken Spaldeen. Spalding sold millions of them - mostly in the Northeast - from the early '50s until 1978, and there's a memory for each. Most games included climbing a fence or probing a sewer to get the ball back.

Originally, it came from rejects and leftovers from the making of tennis balls - before they put the fur on. You know, like chicken wings used to get thrown away until the Anchor Bar in Buffalo created a desirable snack food.

Stores would get Spaldeens by the box, and the slick ones of us could reach in and pick out the firm ones from among the soft ones like finding good peaches. When Spalding stopped making them, they were 25 cents each. They had a special aroma, remembered like the bouquet of the bubble gum that used to be packed with baseball cards.

The author then describes some of the common venacular used in stickball games

...Spalding stopped having leftovers when it moved the tennis-ball operation to Taiwan, but Chris Waldeck of Spalding said the company would get calls and e-mail every week asking what happened to the ball. Some of the letters might have been tear-stained. And now the Spaldeen is back.

Suburban streets with dead ends and hoity-toity cul de sacs are ideal for the Spaldeen. So are driveways and sidewalks with boxes. So are brick walls or areas without windows on houses. So are stoops. Play until dark and hope the Good Humor man rides by. Sigh.

And the beach. Ah, summer is coming.

The Spaldeen is good for any age. It doesn't hurt the hands. Start by playing hit-the-penny. All you need is a hard surface. If you have sidewalk boxes, you can play boxball, which is like tennis, or boxbaseball with pitching flukes.

If you have a stoop, you can play stoopball: One bounce is five points, a fly is 10 points and a pointer is 100. Play stoopbaseball: Catch a fly for an out - one bounce is a single, and so on. If you don't have a stoop, play it off the curb - if you can find a curb.

If you have four players, you can spread out. In I declare war, each player takes the name of a country and the one who is It throws the ball high off somebody's house or straight in the air and yells, "I declare war on . . . Labrador," or something. Everybody scatters while Labrador tries to retrieve the ball. Then he tries to wing it at some other country.

Two or three on a side, you can play triangle--home at one curb and first base and third on the far curb. The batter slaps--no fist--the Spaldeen, and it must bounce before it passes the far curb. The rest was like baseball.

A few more fielders and you can play punchball. The batter bounces the ball and punches it into the field. In the most ambitious games, the batter tosses the ball in the air and punches it like a tennis serve. Carl Brier and Tom DeLuca were the best overhand hitters I ever saw. A throw from the outfield to the plate on a windy day is a real art.

Long Island finds a special asset in the Spaldeen. Take it to the beach and play catch or tagging-up or triangle or punchball. Inevitably, the ball goes in the water. A wet tennis ball is heavy, sprays water and sand and is useless. Ah, but a Spaldeen, the water just shakes off.

The man from Spalding asked, "Do you need some product?" Product? There must be some in the drainpipe. Besides, I have memories. Two bucks. Cheap.


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