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'Old Timers' Play Stickball at Harlem Festival

By Gustavo Solis | July 15, 2013 8:24am
  Sunday was the 45th Old Timers' Festival in 111th Street between Lenox and Madison Avenues. The annual stickball game and salsa party is a celebration of the pass time that brought young people growing up in rough neighborhoods so much joy.
Old Timers Festival
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HARLEM — Tony "Choo-Choo" Herrera learned how to play stickball in Tijuana in the 1950s by swinging at the heads of old broken dolls.

On Sunday, Herrera, 64, a member of the Stickball Hall of Fame, joined hundreds of people to play the game of his youth at the 45th Old Timers Festival in Harlem.

The annual stickball game and salsa party, on 111th Street between Lenox and Madison avenues, celebrated the popular local pastime.

“It started in the ghetto,” said Felipe Morales, 64, who grew up in the South Bronx and was admitted into the Stickball Hall of Fame on Friday. “We had no money to buy balls or baseball gloves. And we didn’t have a place to play. There wasn’t a lot of grass around.”

So Morales and his friends improvised, playing with rubber balls and broom handles and making bases out of streetlights, fire hydrants and parked cars.

The game spread over the years, drawing a mix of Jewish, Italian, Irish, black and Latino kids, Morales said.

At Sunday's festival, men who used to break windows with errant hits and then run from cops got together to play a friendly match. Then they sat back and enjoyed food from vendors who lined 111th Street and the live salsa band playing on a stage in the schoolyard of P.S. 185.

After the game, the "old timers" said they weren't as fast as they used to be, but they had just as much fun.

“I felt like a kid again,” said Herrera, who got three hits. “I love this game. It brings me back.”