The Stickball Hall of Fame's 2002 Inductees
This year six players were inducted to the Stickball Hall of Fame. They include:
Also - see 2002 Induction Ceremonies
Sammy said, "Nowadays you don't even know who your next door neighbors are, but back then, you knew everyone on the block. It was its own community within a community. On Sunday's right after mass we'd put on our Jersey's which had the letter "A" on them, tie a scarf around our head and go out to play. People from the block would stay around during the day to watch the games; they were our fans."
"We didn't have ball fields so we played in the street," he recalled. "Our game was pitching in, where you hit it on one bounce. Since St Paul's church was in the middle of our block you could hit a clear shot that wouldn't get obstructed by the fire escapes. It made for a better game."
Sammy is best remembered as a strong fielder with soft hands. "I liked the infield because you really had to pay attention. It all happened in the blink of an eye. If you couldn't grab it, you had to at least block it to keep it in front of you," he said.
"Most of the teams broke up during the 60s when they guys went into the military or families moved out of the neighborhoods. But I don't think any of us ever forgot our roots. The tightness in the block helped the guys grow up and stay together. Families, community, church and stickball were our foundations."
Sammy's commitment to community was later expressed through his job. For 22 years he worked as a firefighter in Engine Company #41, on Morris Ave and 150th street in the South Bronx. "This was the busiest firehouse in the city during the 70s. It was tough to see so much destruction," he said.
The Stickball Hall of Fame is particularly happy to induct Sammy this year,
when our nation is pausing to reflect on the heroic work that our firefighters
perform daily. And Sammy also appreciates the significance. "I'm honored to
be inducted the same year as Steve Mercado," he said.
Steve was a top notch all around player. He could hit for power, field well, run the bases, and bring up the spirit of any team. He was also known for his ability of distracting opponents just as they were preparing to swing their bat. This "trash talk," a unique aspect of the game often shocking to new spectators, is well appreciated by fans and participants.
Steve was the President of the NY Emperors Stickball League. In the two years since taking the helm, he brought the league back from decline to once again be a major force in the sport. However, his passion for the stickball ran much deeper than enjoying its recreational value. Steve saw the game as a bridge between the generations; a link of the past to the present, and if he had anything to do with it, the future as well. He consistently reinforced this point in messages on the Emperors web site or printed material stating "Stickball, not just a game, but a tradition."
According to Steve "Stickball is all about community. For me I learned the game from my father, and others of his generation. They were my heroes, the role models we looked up to. Stickball was an important part in our tradition of teamwork, determination and community. My goal now is to reach out to the kids growing up today to make sure we continue to pass down these values."
Just last year at the Emperors Memorial Day Tournament Steve showed how deeply he meant what he said. It had rained and drizzled off and on all weekend and the clouds were rolling in on the final day. Steve had to make a call to go forward with the championship game or the scheduled Junior division match. He decided the juniors would play first, even though this put the championship game at risk. It was an easy call for him. He'd done everything he could to encourage their interest. He'd promised the kids they'd play in the big tournament and was determined to make it happen. Steve was all about values and a man of his word.
Steve would have been proud to stand amongst the many other great players
honored in the Stickball Hall of Fame. And, there is not a soul among us who
does not feel honored and at having the privilege of standing with and knowing
"It's always been that way," he said. "When I'm on, there's no stopping me, but when I'm cold, I can't get anything to happen. I was like that in softball as well."
Andy played softball and stickball as a teenager in the 1960s. We had a great stickball team up on Hughes Avenue in the Bronx and even though we were teenagers, we competed with the established teams. Bouncer, Poppy, Pushpush and those guys would be surprised when we sometimes beat them. They'd say 'how'd we let those kids beat us.' We started calling ourselves 'The Kids' with pride. But our third baseman got killed in Vietnam and it took the heart of the team. We disbanded and I went back to softball. I didn't play stickball again for years.
Andy came back in full force in the early 90s joining with some old friends on the Arawaks. He later joined the Riddlers, Silver Bullets then the Vikings. Andy finally came to the Latin Dukes in 98 and was a major presence on the team.
"I'm a good fielder and a good line drive hitter, but my main strength is that I am a smart ballplayer," he said. "I know how to get on base, when to turn on the speed, where to be in the field. There are a lot of little things that make the difference in the game."
As for being streaky, Andy just explains that's the way it is. "One time I
was cold the whole tournament and then went 5 for 5 in a key game to get us
into the finals. I had a pulled leg muscle, so I was really proud of that
run. I just do the best I can and hope to get the breaks."
Rusty's family moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn when he was just six years old. "When we moved to DeKalb Ave, our apartment faced a small school yard," he said. "It was New York City to the core. The neighborhood had people from many different ethnic groups and practically every kid had some crazy nickname. We'd play stickball, handball and Ace, King, Queen and all the other city games. The playground wall was right downstairs alongside my building."
"We played several kinds of stickball. Our main game was fast pitching, where you threw the ball against a box chalked up on the wall. You didn't run bases, but would get hits according to the distance of the shot. In the small court by my house, if the outfielders caught ball off the opposite wall from the plate you were out. If you got really good, you could knock the ball against the school wall and have it return all the way back to the wall by my house. This was an automatic home run."
"When traffic was light, we'd play stickball games in the street, usually with bounce pitching. The pitcher would fluke the ball to add some spin. You'd kind of step up and hit it on one bounce and then run out the bases. In another game, we'd go out in the street and just hit by ourselves for distance to see how many sewers we could reach."
Rusty had to work hard at his game. "To be honest, I wasn't too good when I started," he said. "I would strike out all the time. But I was very determined and kept hanging around with the big kids. When they realized they couldn't chase me away, they started to teach me the game. I got good because I was competing with people who were older than me."
Rusty began playing hardball in Little League and continued in other older divisions and in High School as well. It was here that he caught the eye of some scouts and was signed at the age of 17. He quickly moved through the Class A divisions and was brought up to the Yankees as an outfielder in 1969. Unfortunately he tore ligaments in his knees. He came back up to the Yankees in '71 where he was injured again, this time with a broken wrist.
Rusty recalled "I used a stickball bat to help me regain my swing speed and strength. Still, I definitely lost some of my power and it affected both my hitting and throwing." Rusty played with a number of teams throughout the 70s including the Indians, Angels, White Sox and Royals. He ended his career in the Pittsburg Pirates organization in 1981."
"Unfortuntately, that's when it hit me. I knew how to play ball, but that was it. I was totally unprepared for the job market," he said.
Once again through hard work and dedication, Rusty was able to meet the tough
challenges. He now is dedicated to helping youngsters understand how they
must prepare themselves. He is the founder of "Winning Beyond Winning," and
participates in a number of youth activities. "We help teach the kids how to
excel in sports, but just as importantly, we tell them to make sure they get a
well rounded education."
Two Friends - Sonny Hernandez and Edwin Matos
It all began about 50 years ago, in 1952 when Sonny started a stickball team called the Bronx Vikings. The team was based on 160th and Trinity Ave across the street from PS 51 where the legendary Jackson Knights played. Edwin joined the team three years later.
"As a young boy I couldn't wait to get out of school to come home to play stickball," Sonny recalls. "We would play ball all day in the street in front of the house. However, up until the age of 16, I had to come home early, even in the summer. At 9:00 my father would stick his head out the window and whistle for me to come upstairs. Even though it was dark, we'd still be playing something."
Edwin recalled "We used to play in the street and someone would keep an eye out for the cops because they would often come by and stop the game. When they showed up, they'd break our bats or throw them down the sewer, but that never stopped us. My dad was our building's superintendent and he always had extra broom handles. The cops would break one and he'd just let us have another." When asked why the cops would bother, Edwin admitted, "Maybe it was because someone complained or because it was crazy to let us keep playing in the street. Our main field was 160th street and Trinity Ave so it really was dangerous. Cars would be coming down in all directions. If we had an important game, some of the big guys would watch out for us and stop the cars. They were betting money so they didn't want the game to be interrupted."
Sonny was a smart second baseman with good hands and great speed. Edwin was as a great all around outfielder who hit with both placement and power. Due to their ball playing skills they often played in an all Bronx team. Sonny said "In the late 1960s, Bouncer put together a team that combined the best players from the different teams like the Lucky Sevens & 60s boys, the Vikings and others. "We would go down to Mott Street on Sunday's to play the guys in Little Italy. There was a lot of money bet, usually $300-400 a game. I think back then they might have won more than we did, but they were really great games."
The Vikings continued as a team through 1976, and then the two friends path's split. Edwin moved down to Puerto Rico Sonny later went to Florida. Edwin recalled "When I got down to Puerto Rico, I thought I was finished with stickball and for a few years went back to playing softball. One day Charlie Rivera called me up to get involved in a new stickball team he was forming down there. I would drive 3 hours each way to play stickball every Sunday, I loved the game that much."
Sonny went down to Florida in 1979 and opened up a garment manufacturing business. He soon started playing ball with the Florida Kings and in fact supplied the traveling uniforms that the Florida teams wore when they'd participate in tournaments.
Edwin moved to Florida in the mid 80s and also started playing with the Kings. The two friends were reunited as teammates once again. Although they've had to retire from the game, they are avid fans and proud of their team's accomplishments and their shared contribution to the game.
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