I went to school this morning and my beautiful teacher, Miss Kent, was not happy with me because I didn’t hand in my homework. No, the dog didn’t eat it because I don’t have a dog and that would be a lame excuse anyway. So I told her the truth that I put off doing it until late last night and I just fell asleep before I could get to it. Miss Kent gave me a beautiful smile and said in a low voice, “Pepino, I suggest that you hit the books first thing when you get home. Don’t, I repeat, don’t wait until late evening to start doing it. Do you understand what I’m saying?” She was very sweet when she scolded me in front of the class. I told her that I will follow her instructions and she seemed to be satisfied with my response. I don’t like the sick feeling I get knowing that she is pissed off at me. Oh well, I will do anything to stay on her good side. I went back to my desk and finished the homework I should have done last night. I was looking at Miss Kent, daydreaming when the three o’clock bell rang. I can’t believe the day went by so fast.
I went home; I finished my home work in twenty minutes and went out to look for my friends. I found the guys on Hick Street in front of Chickies Grocery store. I called out to Mike Tomato. “Hey Mike, what’s going on?’”We’re all going to Nelson Street where the teenagers from our neighborhood team, the Rio’s plan to play a money game of Fist Ball against the Dragons from the Red Hook Projects. They will all put up five dollars each in the pot and the winners takes all.” The Fist Ball game is sort of like baseball, some neighborhoods call the same game Punch Ball. You have home plate, and first, second, and third, base. There is no pitcher like in a stickball game. Most of the time there are six to seven players on the field. The teams toss a coin and the winners go first to hit the ball. The teams are not the only ones placing bets on the game. Everyone is placing side bets on the game, like adults, other teenagers who are watching the game and yeah, kids like me. They play only seven innings in a Fist Ball game.
This game is played with a soft white ball with bumps on it. They call it a Pimple ball. We don’t play this game with a Spalding ball because it’s too hard to hit with your bare hand. The Pimple ball is soft and easy to hit with your fist or open hand. Nelson Street and Hicks Street is a good location to play Fist Ball because of the sewers and manhole covers located there. They make a perfect infield diamond.
One manhole cover is home plate and another manhole cover is second base. One sewer on the right of home plate is first base and the sewer on the left of home plate is third base. I hope you get the picture of what the ball field looks like from home plate. Nelson Street. Hicks Street crosses Nelson Street just beyond second base like a “T”. The players in the field set themselves up. One at first, one at third, one at second, and one behind the second baseman is short center field. The outfield is set up with one player in long center field, because Nelson Street is a narrow street, the right field and left field players are positioned like the top of the “T” on Hicks Street. There is no short stops because of the narrow infield. The third baseman also acts like a short stop because the first baseman holds his position and he does not chase the ball. There are no balls and strikes in Fist Ball, that’s why there is only on umpire who will call a hitter safe or out. When a team makes three outs they will take the field and the second team gets to punch the ball. A right handed player will toss the ball up with his left and then punch the ball with his right hand as hard as possible. The left handed player does the same from the left side. Many players will just punch the Pimple ball with a closed fist. If they hit it right the Pimple ball can really fly a long distance. That’s why there is a short and long center field position.
Some players will hit the Pimple ball with a cupped hand and the ball will curve right or left depending which hand you use to hit the ball with. If someone is on base some players will simply slap the ball on the ground with an open hand to drive his team mate home. These Fist Ball games are serious business in Brooklyn. Each team has professional T-shirts made up with the team colors and team name printed on them.
The Rio’s T-shirts are green and white and the Dragons T-shirts are red and white. Fights break out between the teams when a player who is running the bases is knocked down by a defending player and everybody goes crazy. The players gang up on each other and the people watching the game jump in too. It may take twenty minutes for everyone to calm down and continue the game. It’s a beautiful day and the game goes on for three hours with only two fights. The Rio’s win fifteen to eleven and take home the money pot. We were all yelling and cheering the winning team. I collected my two dollar side bet and walked back to Chickie’s grocery store with my friends. When I’m a teenager, I hope they will let me join the Rio’s Fist Ball team.
We all sat there for a while when Jimmy Pizza pulled out a bag full of rubber bands. He yells out “Let’s play War!” We have eight guys, we choose sides and Jimmy gives each of us six rubber bands. I love to play this game. There are two teams, one team are the “Defenders” and the other team are the “Invaders”. It’s sort of like “Hide and Go Seek”. I am on the “Invaders” team. The “Defenders” have ten minutes to hide in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel construction site area which is filled with all types of building material. Metal I beams stacked up high, huge bins some filled with gravel others filled with sand, metal core rods to reinforce the concrete, stacks of bricks, cinder blocks and lumber and other stuff that I don’t have a name for. When the ten minutes are up the “Invaders” go looking for the “Defenders” with their rubber band pistols. When you shoot another kid with the rubber band it doesn’t hurt that much, it only gives you a little sting. Since all the players have imaginary bullet proof vests, that’s why you can only kill a soldier with a direct shot to the face.
I load two pistols, one pistol in my left hand and the other pistol in my right hand. To load the pistol you take a rubber band and hold it with your lower three fingers in the Palm of your hand. Then you stretch the rubber band around the back of your thumb and hook the rubber band onto the tip of your extended index finger. Now your hand looks like a pistol. You can shoot the rubber band at your target by releasing it with your lower three fingers and directing the shot at the target with your index finger. Remember you can only kill someone with a shot to the face. If you miss each other you are allowed to pick up rubber band ammunition that maybe laying around in the heat of battle. The “defenders” team has the advantage because they know your coming for them and if they find a good hiding place, surprise, surprise, “You’re Dead”. Jimmy Pizza jumps out of his hiding place from behind a stack of bricks; I shoot first with both pistols and hit him in the neck. But Jimmy gets the kill shot by hitting me right in the middle of my forehead. We did our best but the “Defenders” kicked our ass. This is such a fun game of trying to outsmart each other. It is getting dark so we all went home to eat dinner and fight another day.