The game, the setting that started it all
With only a broom handle, a rubber ball, a bunch of guys, and a street, you can engage in a full scale, bona fide, serious, respectable game similar in feel to classic baseball. And talk about a field. Who can beat manhole covers for bases, cars and walls for foul lines, roofs for bleachers, and the fire escapes--the mezzanine.
Bringing it back down to earth, there's 3 basic forms of stickball: fast pitching against a wall, bounce pitching (also known as "slow-pitch" or "pitching in") andfungo (the baseball term describing the act of hitting the ball yourself).
Fast-pitch (wallball) is usually played by 1 to 3 players per side in a schoolyard or parking lot where there's a big wall for the backstop and some open space for the field. Fungo and slow-pitch are usually played in the street, with anywhere from 3 to 8 players on a side.
In slow-pitch, a pitcher stands about 40 to 50 feet away from the hitter, and delivers a sidearm lob (with some spin) that the hitter tries to clobber on a single bounce. This was most common style of play until relatively recently. Rules vary, but usually one, sometimes two strikes and you're out. Anything that lands on a roof is an automatic out. Anything that breaks a window or lands on a porch or area that gets you in trouble is also an automatic out (and probably "game over"). Besides that, regular baseball rules apply (running the bases).
Fungo is now the most common style currently played among organized stickball leagues. The NY Emperors' website clarifies basic rules used for the game.
Fungo hitting styles are are as unique as stickball players. The basic style is to toss the ball up with one hand, hold the bat with the other. Let the ball bounce once, giving you enough time to shift into the proper batting stance (usually an extremely "closed" stance for you baseball experts), and both hands on the bat. Just as it reaches its apex afer it bounces--WHAM! Some hardball purists prefer the technique used in batting practice (throw the ball up and hit it on the fly as descends). Somehow though, this goes against the stickball gestalt, and defeats the cool part about the bouncing rubber ball: the sweet anticipation the extra time brings to the swing. Some guys wait until the ball bounces 2 or 3 times to swing... what a tease!
There's another really cool way to hit that few master. Instead of throwing the ball into the air, you just kind of roll it up off the bat, let it bounce, and whack it. Hard to clearly explain, harder to do, and it definitely required a bit of finesse.
There are some old-time New York stickball legends like Willie Mays and Joe Pepitone. Word has it that Willie Mays was a 4-sewer man, meaning he could hit the ball a distance of 4 sewer manholes from the plate (typically yet another manhole). The point where accuracy ends and legend begins is debatable; the normal arrangement of sewers in New York City would make this distance nearly 1,000 feet! Maybe home plate counted as the first sewer and then if he hit it over the "third sewer" it was considered 4 sewers. Readers, please help us clear away this cloud of confusion on this critical subject.
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