A Worldly Look at Baseball
by Arturo Lopez
Streetplay notes: Arturo Lopez knows the international aspect of baseball. In the early 60's while in the Yankee Farm System he played minor league ball during the regular season and winter ball in the Caribbean. Arturo starred on the Nicaruaga championship team in 1963 and Dominican Republic championship team in 1964, both which won the Latin American Series. After a short career with the Yanks in 65/66 and an injury, he played ball in Tokyo in the much higher paying Japanese leagues.
Arturo brings some wordly wisdom to his discussion about baseball. Yet when he talks about the game, stickball was perhaps his most formative experience. The following notes were taken during a conversation during the Stickball Word Series, on the July 4th weekend.
I grew up in the Bronx at 136th street and Lincoln Ave, our team was the Lincolndales. We actually had three teams broken up by age but even at 14 I played with the oldest guys. The irony was that back then, the police officers used to chase us cause they thought we were bad kids. They would break the bats if they caught us. We called the cops LaHara (a derivitive of the Irish name O'Hara), because the cops were mainly Irish back then.
Our games were all for money, usually $15-20 dollars per game. Some were for more, with funds from the neighbors who were sticking their heads out of the windows.
Usually we'd play a pair of games, one home and one away. The strategy was to bet a lot when home and go easy when away. It was risky to win when you were away, as you could get hurt trying to get out of the neighborhood.
Stickball and softball were my games. I didn't start playing hardball until I was in the Navy from 54-58, aboard the USS Albany, a heavy cruiser. I worked the radar as a fire control technician. We would play whenever we went into a port in places like Chile, Guantanemo Bay, Greece, etc. We'd practice aboard the ship--though sometimes the ball would travel into the water.
When I came back, I was working in the Chase Bank, going to school and then this opportunity came. I'll never forget the day I came in and told my supervisor, the head teller Larry, "I've been invited for a tryout with the Yankees at Yankee stadium." He said, "Go Artie--but call in sick."
I grew up playing all three kinds of stickball; pitching in, hitting by yourself and fast pitch. We even had some interesting stickball related sports down in Puerto Rico. We didn't have a ball most of the time, so we used other materials. Sometimes we'd play with a bottle cap which would make all kinds of crazy spins. We made a game up where we crushed a can and used it as the ball. The batter would hit is and if you caught it on a fly or a bounce, it was an out. This was a tough game because the "balls" would get these sharp edges and cut up your hands. When I came to NY and started playing with a rubber ball, I thought, "Wow, this is easy."
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