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Rites of Spring
2007-03-12 08:59
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I visited my friend Johnny Red Sox yesterday afternoon. John lives between York and East End on the upper east side, which is, in the words on my late father, "the ass-end of the world." (When my brother lived in Brooklyn, Pop told him it was "the ass-end of the planet." Ben said, "Don't you mean the ass-end of New York?" And Dad replied testily, "You know what I mean." As if there was a difference.) John I and trooped back west to Central Park. It was brisk and windy but very nice in the sun. Most of the grassy areas were roped-off, but eventually we found a spot to have our first catch of the year.

A father and son were there throwing a ball around. Shortly thereafter, two French kids--maybe ten and seven, respectively--showed up with mitts and an old ball. The older one was serious-minded. The younger kid was bored. Neither instinctively knew how to catch the ball, but the older one was trying very hard. I gave him a head-nod at one point, and you could tell he was thrilled by the gesture.

They moved around nervously as the ball came their way and dropped more than they caught. The younger kid kept catching the ball accidently with his bare hand. Nothing about the catch seemed fun for him. But the older kid was insistent. I caught glimpses of what they were doing as John and I threw the ball back-and-forth. I thought about helping them out but didn't and got caught up in conversation with John.

When we took a break, I noticed that the two kids had put their gloves down and were now kicking a soccer ball around. Ah, the International version of having a catch. The little one was zipping around the dirt, enthused. The older one was still serious, but working on some fancy kicking moves. When he booted a ball past the little kid he issued an immediate, "Pardon" (my bad).

There was one infield that was open to the public and we saw two high school kids hitting grounders to each other. One stood at home plate with a mitt on one hand and a bat in the other. He dropped the ball from his glove, and smacked a grounder.

When he got back to John's crib, the last inning of the Yankee game was on and we watched the highly-touted Jose Tabata hit. Did you guys catch that? It was an impressive at-bat. He looked at fastball outside for a ball, swung through a breaking pitch and then was jammed by a fastball that was in on his fists. He took the next pitch outside for a ball, and then looked at another fastball in on his hands, this time for a ball. (I don't recall but he may have also fouled off a pitch or two.) The next pitch was a fastball on the outside part of the plate. Tabata lined it over the right field fence for a home run.

SI.com's Bryan Smith was at the game and e-mailed me later. "Jose Tabata is going to be a star. Love the body on that kid."

Comments (54)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2007-03-12 09:31:34
1.   hoppystone
Hey, Alex - what does Johnny Red Sox have to say about the Red Sox?
(BTW: ssshhh, not supposed to even talk about Tabata here, remember?...)
2007-03-12 09:32:19
2.   Sliced Bread
"Have a catch" -- that's a NY thing, right?

I moved around the country a lot when I was in my 20's and people would correct me: "You mean, play catch."

Either way, nothing better to do this time a year than have a catch.

Your story reminds me of when my brother and I would have a catch -- purposely throwing the ball over each other's head, or directly at each other's faces. Good times!

2007-03-12 09:38:37
3.   standuptriple
It's a sad realization when you have to almost make an appointment to "have a catch". It shouldn't be that way, but it is. I miss "burnout" (where you try and throw it as hard as you can, in the chest of course until somebody gets wild or taps out) the most. The old man softball league I'm in doesn't really like that in warmups. The HS kid will play, but it's not the same w/o the horsehide.
2007-03-12 10:47:02
4.   Alex Belth
Play catch? Dag, I've never even heard of that. I'd look at a dude sideways if he ever told he wanted to play catch. You don't play catch, you have a catch. Ha ha. But who knows, maybe that is an East Coast thing.

My friend is excited about the Sox. Cautiously optimistic but excited. He is getting ready for a fantasy draft. I don't do those leagues but it was interesting to see what it's all about, how it makes you approach players and the game in a different way.

2007-03-12 10:59:07
5.   standuptriple
4 First time I ever heard "Have a catch" IIRC was Field of Dreams. Out in CA we play catch.
2007-03-12 11:00:43
6.   Bob Timmermann
Next thing you know Alex will tell us to wait on line for something.
2007-03-12 11:14:45
7.   Sliced Bread
I'm pretty sure I recall Torre saying "play catch" last season. I think it was in reference to Matsui's recovery, and I remember thinking: "Play catch, Joe? Nobody 'plays catch' in the boroughs, you know that."

I figured he picked up that foul language in Milwaukee, Atlanta, St. Lou, or some other baseball town where folks don't know from Egg Creams.

2007-03-12 11:19:01
8.   Knuckles
When we have a leisurely, stand in one place catch, my brother's a big fan of throwing the ball just short. Most of these interactions take place on the beach, so instead of practicing my short-hops, all I get is a nice spray of sand for my troubles. He does this no matter what the sport- baseballs and gloves, football, frisbee, even hitting volleyballs back and forth.
2007-03-12 11:19:07
9.   yankz
Playing, having, whatever- it's amazing and can't be outgrown.
2007-03-12 11:36:18
10.   unmoderated
growing up here in oneonta NY, we used to "toss balls."

having lived in bergen county NJ until i was 4, i was used to "playing catch." i move to the country and all of sudden all the knuckleheads want to toss balls. oh well.

2007-03-12 11:37:31
11.   unmoderated
9 indeed.

in fact, i'm going home early to throw the ball on the roof and let it roll off to catch it,

2007-03-12 12:08:10
12.   Cliff Corcoran
11 I do that for the dog (the roof thing), she loves it.

Hmm, play catch, have a catch, toss balls. I know I'll often say "wanna toss a ball around." Have a catch sounds perfectly natural to me as a NYC metro area kid. Though I think play catch came up as well seeing as I'm from Jersey. Hmm. At this point in the thread, I couldn't tell you which I'd be most likely to use.

We definitely wait "on line" out here, though.

I also got a kick out of a phrase I heard the other day. I was watching Nelson George's HBO movie "Life Support," which is a fictionalization of his sister's story. Nelson was born raised and still lives in Brooklyn and at one point the character based on his mother tells the sister character that she's moving down to Virginia because she's going to "rest for minute." Which cracked me up, because that use of minute has been one of Alex's favorite things of late and here it was in a movie that makes a point of being in and of Brooklyn, NYC.

2007-03-12 12:14:59
13.   standuptriple
Did anybody ever play "Over the Line"? I played it when we were short-handed and basically if you didn't hit it past the IF dirt it was an out. There are a few variations of the game but I came to learn it was a very popular beach game in San Diego. You play with a ruberized softball (I tried to find one outside of the SD are to no avail), on the sand and barehanded (the ladies league could use gloves). I have to say, it's not a bad way to spend a nice day at the beach and is pretty low maintenance.
2007-03-12 12:17:02
14.   Cliff Corcoran
13 Sounds like wiffle ball rules. I've played half-field, where anything to the right of second is foul.
2007-03-12 12:52:53
15.   Chyll Will
13 I played in a softball game against Fat Joe's "Terror Squad" team where any hit that didn't reach the outfield on a fly or a line drive was a foul ball. If it hit the fence on a fly or went out in left or right, it was a ground-rule double. But we were playing on asphalt in parks that would otherwise be extended basketball courts.

There are some NICE ball fields over at Pelham Bay Park (East Bronx) and (better) Van Cortland Park off of Broadway (West Bronx), for all the NY heads. They even play Cricket at Van Cortland, wowzers.

2007-03-12 12:55:42
16.   Alex Belth
I've been at Van Cortlandt when there have been baseball games, soccer games and a cricket match all on the same expanse of grass. Very cool.
2007-03-12 13:10:32
17.   ric
you guys ever play "suicide" with a tennis ball? its off a building wall, if you misplay the return and you have to go touch the wall, during which time your friends try to drill you with the ball
2007-03-12 13:13:02
18.   Cliff Corcoran
15 Yeah, some of my company softball games have wacky grounds rules. Over the wall to the right of the lamp post is a single, from the lamp post to the tree is a double, to the left of the tree is a homer, etc. Usually that's because, like Chyll says, they're diamonds stuck in the corner of fenced-in rubberized multi-purpose fields etc. Of course in Central Park, there's just foul and in play, that ball can roll forever. It's like Braves Field.
2007-03-12 13:17:44
19.   Jeteupthemiddle
17 when I was in the primary elementary grades we called that game "Touch" because when you touched the wall, you had to yell TOUCH.

By the time we got to 4th grade, we started calling it suicide.

As for semantics, I grew up on Long Island and I "play catch" and wait "on line."

When I went upstate (in Cortland. everything above Westchester is upstate for me. don't give me any of that Central New York crap) for school, my friends always mocked me for saying "on line."

2007-03-12 13:18:24
20.   NetShrine
Back in the day, when I was a kid, we used to play stickball. Not the stickball game that you always see in those Willie Mays film clips from the '50's. (Teams playing each other, with bases in the street.) We played one-on-one, where a wall was your backstop and the pitcher threw to a box on the wall for a strikezone. You hit it - if he (the pitcher) fielded it, you were out - if not, it was a hit (and the distance determined the type of hit).

But, we also played a "short court" version of this game - called "Yankee Doodle." In this game, the batter FACED the wall (standing about 10 feet back from it) and the pitcher stood (about 20 feet) BEHIND the batter. The pitcher would throw the ball (from behind the batter) against the wall. The batter would then have to hit the "pitch" as it bounced off the wall - back towards the wall. And, then, the pitcher would have to field the batted ball as it bounced off the wall. Same rules - catch was an out, miss was a hit (of some kind).

We also had a game called "Ace, King, Queen" where we would line up side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, usually 4 or more, facing a wall (about 8 feet away). The guy on the far left would start off by throwing the ball against the wall. If it came to you, on the bounce or fly, you had to catch it cleanly. If you did, then you got to throw it against the wall. Miss it, and you had to move all the way to the right (end) in the row. Best and hottest catcher was always to the far left (hence he was the Ace). Last guy with a miss was always at the end - as the Queen, Jack, or 10, I guess.

2007-03-12 13:54:32
21.   hoppystone
'Stair Ball', anyone? Maybe this was 'Stoop Ball' in some parts.
Anyone's front stoop was usable if it had at least 3 steps. Concrete was, of course, preferable to wood, but any port in a storm. Object was for the 'batter' to stand right next to the stairs and throw a tennis ball (or Spaldeen) off the steps to the fielder(s) waiting down the walk or in the street. The front walk was fair, grass was foul. If it was a fair ground ball, fielder had to throw it back off the steps and field the return cleanly for an out. If it got past the infielder into the street, it was a hit.
The goal for the 'batter' was to throw the ball off a corner of the step to induce a fly ball into the street for a home run (beyond the outfielder's reach, if there was one). This was our form of stickball when the wall wasn't available (e.g. if cars were parked there).
One time, we were playing at the local church and a very old woman was doddering by. The batter threw a line drive that hit the woman right in the leg and knocked her over, right on her face, breaking her glasses. My friends, of course, promptly scattered, leaving me alone to tend to her...
2007-03-12 13:55:26
22.   Cliff Corcoran
17 That was hugely popular when I was in middle school. Nothing like running full speed toward a brick wall while people are trying to hit you with a ball. We called it "wall ball." I also, curioiusly enough, play a version of that with the dog, but there's no running to the wall, we just play the ricochet, and we do it inside the house. :)

20 Yankee Doodle sounds like fun. Never hoid a that one.

2007-03-12 13:57:19
23.   Cliff Corcoran
21 . . . and when I was a kid a played a version of that with the dog using the stairs in the house (not enough room in front of the stairs in the current house).
2007-03-12 14:00:15
24.   Rob Middletown CT
17 - we called that "butts up" which in retrospect was perhaps not the best choice...

Yankee Doodle does sound fun. Of course, knowing the guys I grew up with, most of the time you'd have been hit in the back with the ball...

2007-03-12 14:24:51
25.   yankz
22 Ditto wall ball.

I think I'm going to go play some tennis ball baseball right now.

2007-03-12 14:25:30
26.   Knuckles
16 Van Cortlandt is the melting-pot king of all sports grounds.
I personally have run a cross-country race and played both rugby and Aussie Rules in that park (though not all on the same day).
And while there I've seen cricket, soccer, football, softball, hurling (kind of a crazy Irish field hockey), Gaelic Football, and good old fashioned jogging and biking.
All usually topped off (high school days excluded, of course) with that most international of pastimes- drinking beer in the Irish dives across the street.
2007-03-12 15:09:19
27.   Raf
15 I've played on both. I do like the Van Cortlandt Park ballfield. I've also played @ St. Marys, which isn't as nice, but it'll do in a pinch.

I do like that NYC is finally upgrading their fields, even though some of the fields are being converted to that field turf crap. Worlds of improvement over, say, DeWitt Clinton Park in Manhattan.

16 I'd be afraid either batting or fielding if that were the case. When I played @ VCP, we were over on the south end of the field, past the pool, next to the abandoned Putnam RR tracks.

20 Kids don't know what they missed, I tell ya (:

24 We called it "booties up" or "spread eagle." If someone got tagged a certain number of times, they'd have to stand against the wall while all of us take aim at him. I also remember playing a lot of this in middle school too.

2007-03-12 15:12:15
28.   Schteeve
I can't believe I'm the only one who's worked up about tonight game against the Sux!!!11

If we lose tonight, we might as well concede the division. And CASHMAN SHOULD BE FIRED IMMEDIATELY!11111

2007-03-12 15:41:54
29.   mikeplugh
22 We called it "wall ball" too. I still tell my own students in Japan about that game. They think I'm insane.

Yeah, Kenji, we throw a ball at each other. What? Yeah, to hurt the person. No..no..no.. It's fun. When you get hit in the back and crumple to the ground everyone laughs and you get up slowly smiling and grimacing at the same time.... No, I'm not crazy.

2007-03-12 15:46:25
30.   Eirias
26 Hurling is an extremely fun sport to play. Good stuff.
2007-03-12 15:57:22
31.   Chyll Will
29,30 Wtaching the look on the opponent's face after you hurled fastballs at their walnuts on a beautiful day at Van Cortlandt (yes, t) Park... now that's a Rite of Spring.

30 Always bet on the wino...

2007-03-12 16:01:43
32.   Eirias
What channel is the game on? Is it not on YES?
2007-03-12 16:06:12
33.   seamus
its on mlbtv via nesn.
2007-03-12 16:06:28
34.   seamus
cano just singled.
2007-03-12 16:17:38
35.   seamus
pavano shut em down!
2007-03-12 16:22:03
36.   C2Coke
35 How many innings is he supposed to pitch today?
2007-03-12 16:26:29
37.   seamus
36 i think 3 or 4. not entirely sure.
2007-03-12 16:50:35
38.   jayd
Jerry Remy: "Pavano back in those days threw the four seamer at 95 or 96. Tonight its at about 90..."

I hate to be a downer but this 4 and 5 in our rotation (Pavano-Igawa)might not be there in May.

I need an end of spring training blockbuster trade....

2007-03-12 17:04:21
39.   Chyll Will
(Watching YES on Ch.14 Bx Cablevision for some strange reason)

Okay, not too bad. Don't like that Pavlov has problems finishing with a man on base, but it could have been worse. And man, that last pitch was perfectly placed. (Am I kidding myself?)

Does Basak really have to go? Can we keep him? Hell of a play at third, and he makes good contact. He seems like a gamer from here, man what a waste if he's not kept somehow.

Did Manny lose weight?

2007-03-12 17:06:25
40.   C2Coke
38 I still feel good about Igawa, he's only had a few pitching opportunities since the spring. Pavano, on the other hand, has already used up his "give-him-benefit-of-the-doubt" cards. And so far, he's not doing enough to re-earn the respect.
2007-03-12 17:08:25
41.   C2Coke
39 I don't know about his weight but he definitely got a new hair bun in red wrap.
2007-03-12 17:14:04
42.   Chyll Will
41 It's slimming...
2007-03-12 17:19:12
43.   Eirias
39 It's the same for me. I'm watching the game on Cablevision 18, ostensibly the "channel guide" channel.
2007-03-12 17:24:31
44.   Chyll Will
NIce turn of the two...
2007-03-12 17:26:39
45.   Chyll Will
43 I wish it would stay like that. I don't ever turn to that channel unless I need some background music.
2007-03-12 17:54:37
46.   thelarmis
great thread today, sorry i missed it...

yanks up 4-3 right now in the 6th...

i grew up in queens and long island. i always "have a catch" and yes, i "wait on line."

i dated a girl from england for awhile - it's amazing how many words in the same language are used for different things or not used much at all. we used to keep a list of what we call stuff over here and what they call it across the pond...

stickball was the bomb... we called it "suicide" too... played stoopball, but not that much... i used to throw popups to myself in the street a lot... non-bb games that were fun way back when: spud and red light, grenn light, 1-2-3...

knuckles - can't wait to see a caption for the photo w/ mats, dice-k and okajima! where was igawa for that one?

2007-03-12 18:06:58
47.   C2Coke
46 Igawa stayed in Tampa?
2007-03-12 18:08:47
48.   thelarmis
47 acha! that may very well be it. you vewy, vewy smart. glad i thought of that! ; )
2007-03-12 18:09:27
49.   thelarmis
tie score at 4. top 7.
2007-03-12 19:11:03
50.   Shaun P
19 No worries, Jete - to this Central NY native, Cortland is practically downstate. Or the boonies! ;)

And we always 'played' catch - like standuptriple in 5, the first time I ever heard 'have a catch' was in 'Field of Dreams'.

25 Tennis ball baseball is awesome - though we always played that you couldn't drop the racket, or you were out. You had to run with the racket to at least first, where you passed it off to a teammate. Hardest rule to remember.

Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2007-03-12 20:02:55
51.   rsmith51
I saw that Javy Lopez was released. Just thinking out loud...

Backup C, Occasional 1B??

Or is he way past his prime now?

2007-03-12 20:57:26
52.   mikeplugh
51 Intriguing. That didn't work out so well for the Red Sox last year, so I'm inclined to pass, but looking at what we've got...yikes. Maybe we should....
2007-03-12 22:24:44
53.   Cliff Corcoran
51 I think he's cooked. The Yanks could pick him up, but he would have to battle with the rest of 'em. Wouldn't be a clear favorite at all. Plus I think he has a bad attitude rep.
2007-03-13 09:06:08
54.   Raf
53 Can't be much worse than some of the guys they've trotted out there the last few years. Having said that, it seems he wants to be a starter, and it looks like he doesn't want to play in the AL, so it appears to be a pretty easy decision to pass on him.

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