PARK SLOPE – One day in the early 1960s, when Millie Lammano was in her home on Garfield Place, a few young boys playing Stickball in the street came knocking on her door, asking to use her bathroom.
She let them in, which started a decades-long relationship with the boys on the block. This past Sunday, much of the same crew, now men in their sixties and seventies, returned there to play stickball.
“They all lived down the block, but they didn’t want to miss their chance at bat,” recalled the 101-year-old.
Like they have the first Sunday in June for more than 25 years, the Garfield Boys, a name emblazoned on their blue shirts, played the old-time New York City street game, hitting a Spaldeen with taped-up wood bats, using the tree-lined streets as the foul lines and loosely marked bases, which they ran—or gimped—around after they hit the bouncy pink ball.
With the exception of the increase in parked cars, property values and trees, the Park Slope street—which they knew decades ago as part of South Brooklyn— looks about the same as it did when the working-class, mostly Italian American boys played on the block and lived on it and close by, the Garfield Boys said.
“It’s harder to play, because now the balls get stuck in the trees,” said Greg Garra, a retired former MTA worker who now lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
The men, most of whom are retired and have moved to tri-state area suburban areas, recalled the old days of white ethnic South Brooklyn. (A few recalled how past 6th Avenue used to be where the Irish Americans lived). And they roped several unsuspecting passersby into their yearly gathering, while engaging in non-stop chop-busting banter with one another.
“He used to be the best third baseman we ever had,” said retiree Mario Colasuonno, who worked for the postal service and now lives on Staten Island, gesturing to the man up to bat who whiffed. “Used to be!”
He wasn’t finished.
“This is a sad-looking team. Look at you. Put a little spring in your step!” he shouted. “Is Access-A-Ride going to come pick you up?” … “They’ve been practicing for 25 years and they still don’t know how to play!”
And they weren’t just comfortable ribbing longtime friends.
“That’s the score,” he said to this reporter, pointing to a license plate on a parked car. “He’s a reporter, he’ll believe anything. Fake news!”
Most of the men, the stickball players told Bklyner, were second or third generation American sons of people who returned home from World War II.
“We played stickball from when we were seven or eight,” said Colasuonno. “We don’t come here to play. We come here to say hello and have a few [drinks]” at a post-stickball game barbecue.
“It’s not just a stickball game,” said John Garra, who also lived in the area. “How many many places can you go where people [after] 50 years still come together?”
But that doesn’t they’ve lost their competitive spirit.
“See the thing is, you always try to get an advantage,” Colasuonno said. “So if it’s three outs, you say ‘Two outs’ until somebody corrects you. … If we’re winning and it’s bottom of the 7th [inning], [the] game is over. If we’re losing in the bottom of the 7th, they’ve got to beat us by two runs.”
While few residents on the block seemed bothered on Sunday by the game, they’ve had complaints in past years from people who weren’t around for when the men were growing up, when stickball, stoopball and other street games were far more common.
“We used to get this lady on the second floor who would yell at us every time we played,” said Mike Lammano, who grew up on the block and used to work for the MTA, pointing to a nearby building. “It’s a Sunday morning, I said, ‘These guys can’t even play a whole game,’ you know what I mean? Just put up with it for one day.”