A small apartment house sits on the corner
lot now, looking quite sedate, blending in with the modest, but
somewhat tired single family and two family homes that dot the neighborhood.
But over 40 years ago, it was the scene of epic sporting confrontations---would
be sluggers meeting in America’s favorite summer pastime,
strutting their prowess on this dusty, scrub grass, sand lot…..each
one intent on smashing a baseball clean over the towering billboards
that lined the rear of that triangular piece of city real estate.
No formal records exist of these clashes; and no baseball scouts
were ever seen there-- but the boys from 5th, 6th, and 7th streets
and 2nd Avenue remember it well, for they spent their youth here,
forging life-long memories and a love for the game. It was our own
little Yankee Stadium, and we swaggered with all the bravado we
could muster. Everyday was All-Star Day.
The Babe and The Yankee Clipper couldn’t hold a candle to
Kenny Pardee and Tommy Ranucci, each smashing over 150 billboard
clearing blasts. I chased them, but could claim only a modest 120.
Mike “Muskie” Muscarella and Mike “Mousy”
D’Alessio thrilled the neighborhood cheering section with
their clutch hitting and play making. No slouches here with their
many blasts into the upper decks. The fastest man then, our local
speed merchant, was little Mike Berardi with his base clearing romps;
and combined with the solid hitting of Tommy Festa, John Ramondi,
and Pat Kirwin, made for continuous summertime thrills.
Admission was free to this all-day-long entertainment. Younger
brothers and sisters cheered from the side-lines as did some very
pretty young ladies we all wanted to impress. Most folks in the
neighborhood didn’t mind the noise, they knew exactly where
their children were. It was the quiet that made mothers peek out
Cruising patrol cars gave a courtesy check and an occasional smile
as we entertained ourselves, stirring up whirlwinds of dust. Pubescent
boys, a ball, and a bat….that was all it took back then to
have loads of fun. No play dates, or scheduled formal team practices.
You walked to the corner stadium from your house and right onto
the field. You took a position and play began. No formalities. Pure
desire drove that sports machine.
Mr. Gagliardi owned the house next door and behind the billboards,
and was always happy to throw our ball back into play if it cleared
the stadium and landed in his yard. He would sit on the front porch,
never flinching, even if a screaming 3rd base line shot whizzed
past him. Neighbors like that are invaluable.
Pieces of our roots are yet deep in the dusty soil. We remember.
I met my best friend, Lou Lanese, on that field. Tommy Ranucci introduced
us during a lull in the game. The friendship stuck. We went to college
together and were best man at each other’s weddings; and still
laugh and reminisce today, watching our children grow up and get
“Mousy”, married and a father with 3 boys living up
in Sussex County, e-mailed me the other day after reading some of
my Newark memories on this site. We had not talked in many, many
years. He had recognized an oft-hand comment I made in a previous
article about the old corner lot, and that is what really prompted
me to reminisce in greater detail today, telling you about our exploits
those many summers past---tales we have told our children.
The old ball field had its share of outside threats as well. Located
as it was on the busy corner of North 5th Street and 2nd Avenue,
it was alongside a main traffic conduit from Park Avenue to Bloomfield
Avenue, and folks tended to head in that direction with great gusto.
One summer in particular, the laws of probability were against
us and the neighborhood was awash in a variety of accidents on that
corner, several of which pushed cars up onto the sidewalk where
home plate was located. On one occasion, a batter and catcher had
to make haste to get out of the way as one of Detroit's lead sleds
came careening up onto the sidewalk, hitting a nearby hydrant, causing
water to flow out.
Fortunately no one was ever hurt, but so many accidents in one
summer seemed to be an omen from the gods. Once an emergency vehicle
heading for the accident scene broke its steering mechanism on 5th
Street, about where my house was, and promptly smashed into a nearby
utility pole. Talk about disaster areas.
But somehow amid all this activity, America's pastime flourished
while the boys of summer transformed slowly into young men. Soon
they would yield the scrub grass and dusty soil to the next phalanx
of kids, who like they, would dream of being their favorite sports
So much fun we had on those last few innocent days before manhood
came calling, like young stallions nipping and nuzzling each other,
we traveled in a comfortable pack, deliciously oblivious to high
school and what lay beyond. Only sports mattered.
From the vantage point of 40 years later, I still hear their voices,
see their faces, and feel the excitement of ball hitting bat. It
often goes in slow motion. Their expressions are clear in detail;
and I remember the smell of the dust and the feel of sweat on my
skin. They are happy memories of safer times, when neighborhoods
were extended family. I have dreamed of that corner more than once.
I wonder if those people living in that apartment building now
ever hear the echoes of those spirited games, the unfettered joy
of athletic competition. Maybe on certain summer days, they might
discern our squeals of delight that for a moment seem to come from
the very walls around them.
Perhaps there is someone living nearby still, who remembers us,
and the boisterous way we played our games?
How many other lots around old Newark are remembered the same
way...…..a time when some boys, a ball, and a bat converted
carefree summer days into a special kind of magic.
PS…..and we never broke a window !!!