Hipsters, beware: Brooklyn’s old-timers are protecting their turf. Or at least they are at the McCarren Park tennis courts, in Greenpoint, where a gang of 50 retirement-age ralliers — a de facto tennis mafia — calls the shots, swearing at those who try to uproot them from “their” two chosen courts.
“They seem to own the place,” complained one young player from Williamsburg, who said that in the past the men cursed at him when he asked them to move after their scheduled time was up.
Another irate — and intimidated — player corroborated those claims, saying that the men have hurled “more Polish at me than I know what to do with.”
Many of the McCarren racketeers are old friends, and have met at the park for tennis for more than two decades.
“Over the years, courts 6 and 7” — the two most-secluded courts, on the Berry Street side of the park — “kind of became the Polish courts,” explained Amleto Mazza, a rare Italian member of the group.
Mazza, a fit 50- or 60-something clad in gym shorts and a t-shirt, his thick brown hair neatly brushed back, had arrived at the courts, smoking a cigarette, at about 5 pm on a recent Friday afternoon. He flashed his $100 season permit to the park attendant on duty, whose job it is to assign players to courts.
But a confident Mazza eluded assignment by gesturing over to the court 7, saying he was “meeting Al” — that would be Al Benay, a relaxed, level-headed 80-year-old who’s a daily fixture at the park. Benay was hitting the ball with a retired businessman named Frank, a stout, round-faced guy with a fierce backhand.
Mazza passed through the gate, heading toward the benches lining the rear edge of the courts, where as many as a dozen of his tennis partners congregate on weekday evenings and all weekend long. The guys shoot the breeze while they wait for their turn at the baseline, treating the public court like their own private club.
“A lot of the emphasis is on socializing,” Mazza said. “You get to know to know everybody.”
Benay, who’s played at the McCarren courts for 35 years, said that in the past, attendants tried to break the mafia’s monopoly on 6 and 7 by delegating the courts to other pairs.
It was to no avail.
Even if the attendants succeeded in uprooting the gang for the day, they go off duty at 6:30 pm; after that, the courts are left unpatrolled.
And although they might not be playing nice, technically these Greenpoint goodfellas aren’t breaking any rules. For instance, by rotating players on their own, no one violates the one-hour per player per court time limit.
But try explaining that to the players who end up stalled on the other side of the fence — a crowd that has doubled in the past five years.
A few spats over the years got so bad that police had to intervene and toss the guys out.
The group’s bad reputation has grown, and the threat of conflict seems to have effectively aced would-be interlopers. A handful of McCarren’s younger regulars hesitated when asked to comment on the gang.
“Trying to get them off is a big headache,” one tennis player finally said. “They don’t want anybody else playing on their courts.”
Another player said he sometimes gets to play with the geezers, “but it took me years to get to that point,” the player told The Brooklyn Papers — as long as we promised anonymity.
He refused to answer additional questions. “I’ve pretty much said all I can say,” he explained.
“They’re very territorial,” said another youngster, glancing around as he spoke to be sure no one was listening. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Park manager Tony Rosa, who’s relatively new to McCarren, claimed he “didn’t know anything about it.”
Meanwhile, the gang doesn’t seem too concerned about losing its position at the park.
When asked about the young people being shut out of the courts, Mazza just smiled, a grin as charming as it was unapologetic.
“There’s always a little bit of give and take,” he said.