Courtesy of my friend Fred Lizzi, who I have been proud to know for the last 60 years.
Ode To A "Spaldeen"
"THIS story is about a ball, the most wonderful ball ever invented.
It's better than a baseball, basketball or football. It's better than any ball you can name. It was gone for 20 years, but it is back now.
It is called a Spaldeen, which might not mean anything to you, unless you grew up on the East Coast, preferably New York City before 1979. I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s, which means my childhood memories are filled with Spaldeens. Starting in the 1920s, the Spalding Co. manufactured tennis balls at its home base in Chicopee, Mass. But overruns would occur, so there wasn't enough of the fuzzy stuff for the outside of the tennis balls. Some anonymous genius -- and I use that word "genius" with reverence -- got the idea to market the bright pink, unused rubber cores as the "Spalding High-Bounce Ball." Because New York City people don't talk so good, they pronounced Spalding as "Spaldeen" -- as in, "Hey, Joey, you wanna play? I got a Spaldeen."
Spalding would box the Spaldeens and ship them down to New York City, where kids would buy them for a quarter each. And, my God, when you bought a brand new Spaldeen, the aroma alone would cause ecstasy; it was the smell of Bazooka bubble gum and summer and childhood and joy and hope. Then you would go out and play. All those legendary New York City street games began and ended with Spaldeens. I'm talking about games you've heard about but might never have played -- stickball, punchball, stoopball, hit the penny and a million others.
When it came to inventing games with a Spaldeen, the only limit was your imagination. We didn't have baseball fields or any other kinds of fields. We played ball on playgrounds-- really slabs of concrete surrounded by cyclone fences -- or we played in the street, using sewer covers as bases.
The virtue of a Spaldeen, besides that you could whack it a mile, was that it didn't break things. You hit Mrs. Smith's Olds 88 with a Spaldeen, no big deal. No broken glass. No broken mirror. No broken nothin'. Of course, Mrs. Smith would come running down her steps, screaming, "I'm gonna tell your mutha." I apologize, Mrs. Smith, wherever you are. I mostly played in the playground of P.S. 201. And every kid would come to the playground with a Spaldeen in his back pocket. If someone had a stick, we'd play stickball. The stick was an old broom handle or a dowel from the closet. We'd draw a box on the wall and pitch to it, and if the batter hit it over the fence, it was a homer. We'd play handball with the Spaldeen, and sometimes we'd go to a friend's house for stoopball. A kid would throw the ball at the steps in front of someone's house, and as the ball sailed back, you'd try to catch it on a fly. If it bounced once, it was a single, vintage style wedding apparels back Tulle Overlay 1950s
twice a double, and so on. But the king of Spaldeen games all over New York City was punchball. You'd toss the ball over your head.
You'd swing down overhand as if you were serving a tennis ball. And then you'd punch it with your closed fist. Guys could hit it 200 feet, long fly balls that seemed to never come down. The puncher would be running around the bases -- painted squares on the playground's grimy concrete -- while the outfielders ran like mad after the Spaldeen.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS !!"