Player: Jose Mandy Rodriguez
Team: The 60 Boys
Mandy Rodriguez is a young 51 year old; thin, fast and still able to chase down some tough drives into the outfield. Highly regarded by other active players, Mandy was also captain of the 60 Boys, the team that played a major role in keeping stickball going as a competitive game in the '70s. Mandy described his feelings about the game.
"A lot of people don't realize it, but in the late 60s and early 70s stickball was dying. Many of the guys who were older had stopped playing or moved out of the old neighborhoods. Many young guys coming back from Vietnam were pretty messed up, and had trouble readjusting to civilian life. They were angry and easily got into arguments and fights, so they didn't really want to play either."
"That's why our team was so important, because we were still playing and taking it seriously. Not only that, but we had a lot of young players. When I came up playing in the early 60s there were a bunch of great players that we looked up to who played for the Rockets on Jackson Avenue and the Knights. We wanted to join them, but they considered us to be just kids, which I guess we were back then.
"We called ourselves the 60 Boys because we played at PS 60 a school right off Weschester Ave 163rd street. The field was a small schoolyard with a fence, big infield and small outfield. I would play outside of the fence I was the best at catching balls that richocheted off the buildings. Hey, it didn't matter where it was hit. If you could catch it, the guy was out."
After a few years, as we got better, we started playing competitively against the established teams. By the mid 70s we were the best team in the City. We'd beat the Bronx teams, as well as the Italian guys from Mott Street who had been the best for awhile."
"Now lots of the Italian guys had good power, and were long ball hitters. I was a line drive man. I'd hit shots that we called skeeters, which were low to the ground and could rise or skip on you. I remember one game that we were playing down in Mott Street, when this big guy on first base named Moose kept taunting at me, telling me that I couldn't hit. I took aim and sent a skeeter right at him. It smacked him hard right in the chest. It looked like a target had been painted on and he had to put on his shirt, which I appreciated since he always played with it off."
"There was some real money put down on the games back then. We would bet three or 400 on some games, but the bookies would come down and make the total much higher. You had to bet; it was part of what you did. Sometimes people would actually be betting their rent money, their light and gas money. You could see it in their face when they had a lot on the game."
"When I think about it, Stickball was our sanity. Things were bad in the neighborhoods back then; Vietnam had messed people up, drugs had come in and the landlords were burning down the buildings for the insurance money. Our crew stayed clean. There was one guy on the team who got involved with drugs. We told him - get yourself together cleaned up and then come back. He came back and became one of the best shortstops around."
"In the mid and late '70s we got involved with more organized competitions organized by Pete Velez and the guys from Manhattan. A lot of the guys didn't want to play because the Manhattan teams played slow pitch, and out game was hitting by yourself. We fielded a team, and ended up winning the league championships a couple of years in a row. Those were great times."
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