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Player: Pete Velez   Team: Young Devils

Pete Velez playing stickball early 50s Click for bigger picture
Pete Velez playing stickball 1949

If you're talking about stickball, and the people who played a big role in it, you've got to talk about Pete Velez. Pete is one of the game's main organizers and historians.

From the '40s through the '90s, Pete was a member of East Harlem's Devils, and the leader of the team called the Young Devils. He recalls the early days of the group.

"When we were kids either the cops would break up our stickball games, or the big guys would kick us off the streets, so they could use them. There was a lot we had to overcome just to be able to play. Then during World War II, people went off to the service so not much was going on in the streets, but when they returned, stickball really reached its prime."

"Starting in 1947 I started leading teams from Spanish Harlem up into other neighborhoods in the city. We went downtown to Little Italy, to Brooklyn and the Bronx. This was a big change because until then, guys would primarily stay in the neighborhood and just play teams that were within a few blocks. "

"Our area also became one of the City's stickball centers. People would come from all over to play us. Everyone knew we'd would be there, so it was easy to get a game going. Back in the 40s and 50s you would often see big money games of $50 to $100 a man - perhaps $800 to $1000 a game. Money came in from neighborhood guys besides the players, and there would be betting on the side. That died down by the late '50s but we'd still tell people to come on down and play, just for the fun of it."

Richard Mojica, another Hall of Famer recalled the important role Pete has played in preserving the game. " Pete has been a major figure to people of successive generations" he said. "He was one of the key people to keep the game going during the 60s and early 70s when many of the players went off to the service or left the neighborhood. Pete initiated various leagues and tournaments and always made it a priority to reach out to youth."

Each era has its memories. Pete recalls that one of the most exciting events took place in the early '80s. "It was the time we went down to Puerto Rico for the first World Series of Stickball. I had worked with Superman (Charlie Rivera), Ralph Torres, Harry Santiago and Bouncer to create an event where each of the major areas NY, Florida and Puerto Rico fielded one team, made up of their best players. The winner would be the first World Champion. In the finals it was NY against Puerto Rico. The team from Puerto Rico had taken the first three games and was beating us in the fourth, when Chibe Santiago came in to pinch hit. He hit a home run and we won the game. We then came back to win four in a row and take the series. That was a really exciting competition."

"I've got great memories about so many of the games and the guys who played. I've always been straight with people and am proud to have helped the game survive and grow."

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