Arlington Avenue Playground

by Danny Buckley


I grew up one block from the Arlington Avenue School. From my 3rd floor bedroom, I could look out the window over the garages behind 427 Summer Avenue and across what we called “Rutgers Field” to the playground entrance on Wakeman Avenue. In the summer, I’d do just that, looking to see if anyone had shown up yet to play ball on the blacktop field. The gates to the playground were locked tight until Mr. Torre would arrive at noon, but we’d still find our way in, either squeezing through a narrow opening or climbing over the 20-foot high fence. During supervised hours, only softballs were allowed; earlier in the day we’d use a rubber-coated hardball for our games. We could get by with 6 on a team, as the building wall made rightfield and much of centerfield non-existent. 3 infielders, 2 outfielders and a pitcher were enough to start a game – a non-batter from the other team could catch and throw the ball back to the pitcher. OF COURSE, we’d always have 9 per team before long and others would be waiting around to fill in if someone quit or got hurt.

There were ground rules. A ball hit on the roof of the school was 3 outs and you were responsible for getting the ball. Some kids like Ron Cebula made a living getting paid nickels, dime or quarters climbing the fence and shimming up the drain pipe onto the roof to retrieve wayward balls. As a left-handed batter, the roof was always a concern for me. Perhaps that’s how I became a proficient opposite field hitter at a young age. A high foul ball to the left could land in either of two yards. Just next to third base posed the greater hazard – a mangy dog would grab the ball in his teeth and you’d need to go rip it out from his slimy grip. Again, there were those that would, for a price, set out to retrieve the ball, but there was less interest in this mission.

The fence down the left field line was 185 feet from home plate and we measured dead center one time at 272 feet (you had to hit it over the far end of the school to hit one here). Beyond the fences lay the Rutgers School of Pharmacy (now the North District Police Hdqtrs). With a hardball the fences were reachable by many. With a softball, it was a bit more of a poke.

There were playground legends who many may remember. Benny Galante was one – the rumor was that he was drafted by the Mets out of Barringer High. All I know is I once saw Benny throw a football the length of the playground twice in a row, once right-handed and once left-handed! There was Tommy Hahnes, who was almost automatic over the fence and 50/50 to land one on Lincoln Avenue. And Broadway was reachable for T. Hahnes as well. There was Luis Cardoso, better known as “Hook” due to the permanent shape of his left arm after a botched childhood operation. At 5’6” and with basically one arm, he could hit it out once in a while, could just about dunk a basketball and I also remember more than one 1-punch KO when challenged to a fight. Many others as well – Arlington Ave. playground had what legends are made of.


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