Stick Ball and Gentile

by James Lawler


“At sometime in your childhood, you and your friends went outside to play together for the last time, and nobody knew it”

Hi, my name is Jim Lawler. I lived in Newark from 1952 to 1972. I spent the first 10 years of my life living on Bloomfield Avenue above my grandfather’s drugstore, Soriano’s. it was next to Eddie the Butcher and Swanks. I want my story to start in elementary school, about 5th grade, because those days were the best.

I went to Sacred Heart Cathedral School. It was the old Brick Building on the corner of Ridge Street and Park Avenue. The school only went up to 5th grade, then you had to go to St. Patrick’s. I really don't remember where that was, but we went there for 6th and 7th grades. Then we went back to Sacred Heart for 8th grade. I moved to North 6th Street about 1962. I lived down the block from Garfield School, towards Orange Street. My mother had to convince Monsieur Doyle to let me stay in Sacred Heart.

I grew up with the best collection of guys. There were nicknames that ranged from Skinny to Batman. I remember some names, but I do not want to mention anyone for fear of leaving someone out. We were all altar boys, crossing patrol guards and Boy Scouts for about a year.

The summer was the best time, the baseball teams at Sacred Heart would start up. Everyone played and this was the highlight of the summer. My last year I played on the Yankees and we won the World Series.

The schoolyard was our home, we got there early in the morning and played until lunch, came back, and stayed until it got dark. We played some football but most of all we played baseball every waking minute in the schoolyard.

Now baseball in the schoolyard was called Stick Ball. It was a box drawn on the school wall, a bat, and a sponge ball. There was a pitcher and one outfielder. The rules were simple. Three outs and you changed sides. The rules for a hit were, past the pitcher on a fly was a single, if you hit the grass a double, the street a triple, across the street by Del Prestos was a homer.

The next game was Gentile. It was like regular baseball except we played toward the school, so we wouldn’t hit any cars. Again, the rules were simple, anything on the ground you had to run out, off the wall was a single, over the Bingo sign was a double, over the school was a homer. We played with a sponge ball, sometimes a hardball. I hope I got all the facts and rules right.

We played all day, every day from the time the snow melted to the time it started to snow again. The guys were almost always the same, the teams were almost all the same. It was just a great time.

We were the original Sandlot. We all went to school together and we all lived within three blocks of each other. We all walked home together and talked about everything, cars, baseball and yes, girls.   Guys would start to peel off as we got close to their block.   It was truly a time of innocents; our biggest problem was who had 15 cents to buy a sponge ball.

There was an assortment of talent in the schoolyard. There were some guys who had real raw talent. Some played in high school and a couple in college, but most of them never went any further than the schoolyard.

But like all stories ours had its problems. The usual assortment of problems popped up. Some guys got in with the wrong crowd and got in trouble with the law, drugs started to take its toll and guys started to move out of Newark. By the time of high school in 1970, the playground days were over. A lot of us went to Essex Catholic, others to Barringer.

By that time the magic had faded and there was no more Stick Ball or Gentile.  I still remember faces and names.  I can still hear the arguing over what was a hit or a homer.  I still keep in touch with some of those guys and when we talk the conversation always turns to the schoolyard, a time of friends and laughter.

Those days are 56 years ago. I would give anything to play just one more game with that great bunch of guys.


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