With spring in the air, the sled riders hung up their sleds and ice skates on nails on the side of their coal bin walls and got ready for the first sport of spring...stickball or as it was known in West New Brighton, Yankee Pirate.
Kids waited patiently for that first Harbinger of Spring to ring the front doorbell: the Fuller Brush Man. They knew that this salesman would talk their mothers into buying at least one new broom to do the spring house cleaning. This meant that the mothers would probably let the aspiring Yankee Pirate players have last year’s Fuller brush broom.
This was extremely important for true Yankee Pirate afficionados...for Fuller brush broomsticks were made of maple and not soft pine like common strawbroom sticks.
While thinner than the strawbroom stick, the hard maple was extremely durable and hardly ever cracked like the pine broomsticks. More importantly, if you hit the ball square with it, you could give the ball a much longer ride. Making use of the family handsaw, one cut the broomstick to the desired length...usually as long as possible so that one could reach for those fat pitches outside the strike zone, but not so long that one couldn’t “get around” on it...this variable depended on the player’s size, ability and preference.
Okay, now the bat was acquired, the next goal was to obtain the ball. There was only one “official” ball for Yankee Pirate: the Spaulding Hi-Bouncer. When this bubblegum pink beauty was brand new, it still had a dusty fuzz on it...it felt like peach fuzz. Only it was more dust than fuzz and as soon as the ball got wet the first time, the dust disappeared. There was one problem with the Spauldings...they were expensive! At Wilson’s 5&10 on Forest Avenue, they cost 15cents and Fred Muche’s on Castleton Avenue charged a quarter! Of course, one could buy an imitation hi-bouncer for a dime and sometimes even a nickle, but they usually split in half after the third time they were well hit.
So where did one acquire the necessary funds for this important Yankee Pirate accessory? If one had been wise and thinking ahead , he would’ve hung around St. Peter’s cemetery during Easter week. The families who came to pay their respects to their dead and departed liked to hire local kids to plant Easter flowers on the family graves... either it made them feel pious and holy, or they didn’t want to soil their Easter finery, or maybe both.
However, most were too lazy to pedal their Roadmasters or Schwinns up Bement hill to the cemetery and resorted to the time honored method of scraping together das Geld: prospecting for deposit bottles. Since the lot is long since gone, I will now reveal my secret best spot: behind the billboard in the empty lot that was on the corner of Regan and Castleton Avenues in West New Brighton. It seemed like at least twice a week, someone would leave two empty quart beer bottles (usually Schaeffer’s but often R&H and occasionally Pabst Blue Ribbon) in a brown paper bag. What a find! Ten cents worth of deposits in a paper bag just waiting for some lucky kid to pick up. In those days I called him the “mystery drunk” and even wrote a series about him in a little newspaper I published, but now I like to think of him as a philantrophic patron of Sport, who left those bottles there to help kids buy their first Spaulding Hi-Bouncer of Spring.
In the next episode we’ll discuss the venues in that Mecca of Yankee Pirate: West New Brighton. As always, anyone is welcome to jump in and add to the story.
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