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‘New’ old-timers: Fresh blood joins stickball tradition

The Brooklyn Paper
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Young and old traveled from across the country to take part in the Brooklyn Stickball Old Timers 47th-annual stickball contest on Oct. 3.

It’s a tradition that started with a promise between neighborhood friends in 1968 to come back to Bay Ridge each year for a pick-up game of stickball to stay close and remember their childhoods. Since then, younger family members and friends have also joined, who in turn have involved their friends.

The three dozen or so players who showed up this year were split into teams representing the “old” Old Timers and the “young” Old Timers. The older team, made up of players mostly in their 60s, proved they still have what it takes, winning the first game 22–9. But the young guns bested them in the second.

Both teams wanted to win, but the real victory for many players is just getting to see their old pals each year.

“All the old stories come out, everyone is joking around and laughing,” said Peter Syrdahl, 68, who has organized the annual gathering since its founding.

Stickball evolved in the American northeast as a way for city kids to play baseball in tight city streets, with players tweaking the rules depending on conditions on their “field” and the materials at hand. The Old Timers play a version with no pitcher.

“It’s restricted by a city block, so one sewer cover is home plate and the next one on the block is second base,” said Syrdahl. “First and third are set on the street near cars. The batter throws the ball up in the air and you either hit it ‘on the fly,’ or let it bounce and whack it as far as you can.”

More and more of the original stickballers are choosing to sit out the game as the years pass and take their toll — something Syrdahl has struggled with in years past. But with new players joining each year, the tradition doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

Each year the Old Timers give the best newcomer the Jr. Broomstick Award. This year, it went to Thomas Clark of Louisville, Ky., who was invited by friends he met playing fantasy baseball. He said he’ll come back so long as he is invited.

One of the younger players told Syrdahl this year that if he moved back in the area he was interested in taking over for Syrdahl when he gets too old to continue organizing the event himself.

“That gives me a great sense of relief,” said Syrdahl. “It’s good to know that it could go on for another 50 years.”

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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