On Sunday in Coney Island, the gang is getting back to together for a fierce game that once determined everything to the kids on Brooklyn streets.
July 9 has officially been dubbed Stickball Day in Brooklyn, and to celebrate MCU Park will host a double header: a stickball game between rival teams from Brooklyn and Staten Island, before the Cyclones vs. Staten Island Yankees baseball game at 4pm.
And as an added bonus, they’ll screen the award-winning stickball documentary When Broomsticks were King.
The 27-minute critically acclaimed short film consists of nostalgia-tinged and hilarious interviews with aged players — characters of rival leagues on Park Slope’s 10th and 11th streets, spliced with black and white game footage to illustrate their memories of greatness and glory.
“Back then, we lived for stickball,” one player remembers, and in the same breath “You had to stop playing every 45 seconds because a car would come down the street.”
Armed with a broomstick, a rubber ball, and a couple of sewer caps, stickball became an urban right of passage for Brooklyn kids who idolized legendary players on Ebbets Field.
The bases consisted of two sewer caps — one for home plate and one for second base, with a tire of a car as first and third. “Stickball is the poor man’s baseball,” said filmmaker Jay Cusato, with self-pitching and two swings. “You play in the street with no equipment, you take your mother’s broomstick and everyone pitched in a penny each to buy a Spaldeen.”
For Cusato, film’s inspiration hit close to home. “My uncles and my dad played stickball all the time growing up, their stories were the stuff of legends,” said Cusato, a prolific filmmaker with a 60-project credit list.
Their stories reminded Cusato of the HBO series When It Was a Game, a show about the ballplayers from the 40s and 50s who held regular jobs and played for the sheer love of the game.
“All the stories are 100 percent real,” he said. “I created a narrative out of the stories my father and uncles told, I wanted them to interlock in Park Slope.”
The film mirrors historical sports elements like the first racially integrated team and illustrates the player’s grandiosity and larger-than-life personalities through the adoption of nicknames.
But at the end of the day, pride was all that mattered — local stickball championships did not bring trophies and contracts but neighborhood bragging rights for the whole winter. “It was like, death before dishonor,” recounts Boom Boom ‘Frank’ Nunzio.
And if you lost? “You couldn’t get a date. If you asked a girl out she’d ask, ‘What street do you play for?’”
The leagues still play revival stickball games on the streets of Park Slope, but now they’ll have their moment on the field. “The Harlem team killed us last year,” said Cusato. “But it was a great day, and we’re looking forward to redeeming ourselves this year.”
And true to tradition, Brooklyn and Staten Island teams will battle for the ultimate prize: bragging rights.