Lots of interesting renovations are going
on in Branch Brook Park, as the historic area greets its 100th birthday.
It was all just being completed when my grandparents settled near
St. Lucy’s Church after arriving from Italy back in 1903.
My car swings past the Park Avenue entrance to the park and heads
toward the graceful Bloomfield Avenue arch bridge. I gaze out over
the Lake Street ball fields now being completely renovated, remembering
endless summer days and nights playing there. Where did all my youthful
energy go I wonder?
Fondly, I recall the bocce courts by the stone field house where
I spent time watching the game and listening to the men argue and
laugh over whose wooden ball got closer to the small red target
ball. It was there against the wall of that field house that my
best friend Lou and I faced down our toughest stick-ball rivals.
In those brief moments as I wait for traffic to turn onto the Bloomfield
Avenue exit, I am whisked back to the early 1960s………………
“You never could hit a screwball, Luigi. You are such a sucker
“Just put the thing over the plate and stop with the fancy
“Here come those older guys. They are going to want to play
us again. We never win against them.”
“Yeah, but what are we going to do, say ‘no…take
a hike?’. They’ll throw us into the lake.”
So once again we found ourselves trying to fast-ball pitch to guys
much bigger and better than us. We were resigned to another drubbing,
punctuated by an occasional freak hit or run.
After a particular shameful inning of play, we took the field and
I began trying to confuse them with every piece of junk pitching
I could muster. For a while they foundered and then one of them
uncorked a line drive that almost took my head off. As we searched
in the bushes for the ball, Lou turns to me and whispers……
“Let’s hop-up the ball!”
“Wha?” I look at him in total confusion.
Whereupon he pulls a piece of gravel from his pocket, takes the
ball, and scratches it with the rock.
“Change the aerodynamics and give us a chance to compete”,
”Immediately, we two geeks, headed for Newark College of
Engineering just a few years later, start talking in technical terms….aerodynamics,
spin, erratic motion……almost oblivious to our two rivals
”Hey girls…..you find that ball yet?” comes the
sharp, sarcastic tone from the big guy up and waiting at the plate.
Hearing this, I take the ball and rock from Lou and add a few extra
scratches. Now I’m stoked for revenge.
I certainly am no Bob Feller or Whitey Ford but I do have a respectable
curve ball, and a decent screwball. My knuckle ball, however, is
divine. So that’s all the big guys get. Those scratch marks
start working right away. Hippety-hop like the Easter Bunny, that
knuckle ball dances in the fading evening light. It is un-hittable.
These guys are swinging so hard Lou needs a jacket in the outfield
to avoid getting a chill. I already have frost forming on my shirt.
“What the Hell are you throwing?” they start complaining.
“Thought you came to play Grandpa!”…..I taunt
as another knuckleball whistles past for the third out.
The sides change as they glare at our smirks, administering some
intimidating shoves to we falsely brave little upstarts.
“Lou is up first and whispers I hope they don’t inspect
that ball too close, or we are going to be anchor posts for the
row boats in the lake.”
Lou immediately cracks a single. These guys are rattled. We pour
on some hits and runs.
The sides change again and Lou rocks-up the ball once more while
I conceal what he is doing with my body as we walk close together
back to our field positions.
It went like this for the rest of the game until darkness fell.
They never did catch on and we had a respectable loss instead of
a blow-out drubbing. Hey a fella’s gotta’ survive out
there against the big guys. Nothing wrong with applying the old
brainpower when you can.
Traffic starts moving again and so do my thoughts. The whacking
sound of those fast-ball pitches on the brick wall of the field
house slowly fade away in my memory as my car goes under the Bloomfield
Avenue bridge. Instead, I hear kids yelling and listening to their
I can almost feel that summer sweat on my skin; and smell the warm
humid air of a late June evening. The sunlight is getting low now,
just like it was 45 years ago. I think of Lou, and all the crazy
stuff we did in the park. I’ll give him a call tonight and
see if he remembers the night we tipped the baseball balance a little
in our favor.