I really don't remember the first time I ever played the game, I know it was right in our yard on the corner of Elm & McKinley and it was probably with my brother and sister. Our folks were big Brooklyn Dodger fans as were our Joseph grandparents just down the street. But we didn't have a TV until late 1951. I do remember getting a vinyl baseball mitt or two around the age of six. I think Butchie and me got a whole baseball outfit, bat, ball and gloves for one of our early birthdays. Our yard was not that big, but it sufficed for as far as we could hit the ball back then. We didn't have the garage then and home plate was by our Pear tree. First base was by the chimney second just to the east of the flagpole (where the Chrysler landed on it's roof) Third over near the second peach tree. We played all year round then, weather permitting. The first main players were Larry and Dennis (when he got old enough) Schulz and Butchie and Me. A lot of times we just played "catch a fly your up" In the summer the Yodices next door would join in as would the Dennings up the street.
I recall Anhony Yodice really being able to hit the ball and he'd knock that sucker into the woods across Elm Road a lot. (Automatic Home Run and time out for both sides as everyone would join in the search for the ball amongst the poison oak and ivy). Sally Ann Yodice was immune, Butch was just the opposite it seemed to leap out and attack him. Butchie could hit a ball pretty good too , but what he was best at was sportsmanship. Win or lose he always played fair. And there was lots of umpiring needed in those early games. We soon outgrew our yard for playing a decent game plus it had a major occasional hazard. To get to first base you had to cross over the septic tank. Now most of the time it was just a minor hill of very green grass, but then there were times when it would overflow. We lived only a stones throw from the bay and drainage was always a problem. When "the creek" would rise...we re routed first baseline,but faced a MAJOR LEAGUE problem when the ball would land in the soggy grass there. Getting it out was a chore no one wanted to volunteer for and washing it down with the garden hose didn't help that much either. All for the love of the game.
Very early on in the '50's Mr. Yodice cleared his woods on the east side McKinley Drive (directly behind the three of us) with a bulldozer. His main reason was to make room to park all his summer weekend guests. He laid a cement slab for an above ground pool there too but there was plenty of room to play ball in the spring and fall when the Yodice's were back in the city. The pool didn't last very long, it sprung a leak and he took it down. The slab was part of the infield between 2nd and 3rd. Over by Larry and Dennis' house there were two real nice fields that belonged to "summer people" to play in on Ramshorn Drive. One on the Whitten's property, was just across the road from the front of the Knapp Mansion. I recall sometimes staring at it looming in the background of homeplate and missing a fly ball because of it.
Around the time I hit 7 or 8, I got pretty adept at hitting and running. I couldn't field to save my life though. But just as I was getting confident, I had my eye operation and wound up seeing double for about six months. The '54 Baseball season was a washout for me.
It was in '55 Butch had started to expand his play circle and I started playing ball with a lot of older kids. This started up the street from us after school at Tommy Coyle's house. Tom lived on Jefferson and he had a great big field behind his house that bordered on McKinley. It was flat, treeless and big. No automatic home runs here, you could chase the ball as far as it was hit. Though we mostly played softball, you could also play hardball at Tom's and I remember the sting of catching it. By this time I had a real glove. It was in the fall of '55 at the Yodice Field that a bunch of Tom's friends came over to play a game that probably changed my outlook about the game. There were several "new kids" from the north side of Neighborhood road there too. One of them was Al Picarelli who I think was playing in real little league ball then. We used a softball because of the size of the lot and a few of us younger kids. Al was pitching and I think it was Gerry Savarese at bat. I was playing second, Tom Coyle was behind me in centerfield. Butch was playing first base. There was a man on first, I think it was Paul McCormick. Jerry hit a line drive Al caught it and spun and fired it to me. I caught it directly in the nose. Blood all over the place, Al had a worried look on face. Butch took me in the house, I was screaming blue murder. Game called on account of blood. By the time we came back out, they were gone. I went back to playing ball with Larry and Dennis.
I mentioned that our folks were big Brooklyn Dodger fans. Well that filtered down to me too. Butch was a "secret" Yankee Fan. Can't blame him, all his friends were and so was most every kid I went to school with. In the spring of '55 my Mom brought me home a Brooklyn Dodger jacket from the Bee Hive Department Store in Patchogue. She didn't get one for Butch, because I think she knew and there would be NO DISPLAY of Yankee support in our house. I took a bit of ribbing with it when I first wore it to school that spring, but certainly had the last laugh come that fall. Only problem was I left those kids of spring behind when I went from 3rd to 5th grade. Nonetheless '55 was a great year to have a Dodger jacket and I wore it long after it was too small.