My favorite baseball variant was stickball. Here’s the version we played. You found a suitable schoolyard wall. You drew a batter’s box on the wall. You marked off a distance from the pitcher to the batter, measured so that the pitcher had a reasonable advantage, more closely resembling what we imagined to be a major league batting situation. The pitcher threw a tennis ball. The batter used a broomstick, although by the mid-1960’s you could buy manufactured stick ball bats. The game was best played as a 2 on 2 or 3 on 3 matchup.
Depending on who you played with and where you played, there were different rules for hits and outs. Typically a ground ball hit past the pitcher was a single. A hard ground ball fielded cleanly by the pitcher was an out (a double play if hard hit with men in base). Fly balls caught by the outfielder were outs.
The most intriguing aspect of the game was delineating the foul lines and the extra-base hit boundaries. We searched for schoolyards that were appropriately scaled. The ideal schoolyard had a tall fence or wall in the outfield, simulating the grandeur of hitting a home run out of the ball park. Every schoolyard had unique dimensionality and boundaries which in turn determined the rules of the game.
Stickball wasn’t as benign as softball, but less dangerous than hardball. Some kids could throw the ball with blinding speed, and if it hit you, it hurt! There was a dose of fear when facing a fastball pitcher. To be a good hitter you had to overcome that fear. My strengths in stickball (and in every athletic endeavor) were good eye-hand coordination and excellent game playing intelligence. I could always read situations well and then figure out with my totally average running, speed, strength, and quickness, how to accomplish what I was most capable of achieving. I was a contact hitter with modest power. As a pitcher I had sneaky side-arm speed, good control, a slow curve, an ability to assess my opponents strengths and weaknesses, the foresight to change speed and location and to never throw the ball right over the plate.
When I was in high school I used to love to get in the car with three other friends, drive to a schoolyard (I especially liked number 3 school in Cedarhurst) and play stickball. Number 3 had perfect dimensions—a high fence, a reasonable distance from home plate to the fence, all neatly framed by a peaceful, tree-lined street. There were fences all around the yard so you’d never have to go to far to retrieve a ball unless you hit a home run in which case you didn’t care. We literally played inside a cage yet we felt incredibly free.