Play (stick) ball!
One of the most popular street sports from the days of yesteryear is making a big comeback in Brooklyn, thanks to local filmmaker and organizer Jay Cusato.
The third annual Stickball Hall of Fame Game at Coney Island’s MCU Park is slated to take place on Sunday, July 8, a day which was also proclaimed Stickball Day in Brooklyn U.S.A. by Borough President Eric Adams during the first game in 2016.
The day will feature a screening of Cusato’s popular documentary, “When Broomsticks Were King.” The 27-minute short retells the story of Cusato’s father and relatives, and other locals playing the game they adored during the 1940s and 1950s, and why it meant so much to them.
There will also be a stickball game between the Brooklyn Stickball Team enthusiasts and Staten Island Stickball Team, both comprised of Stickball Hall of Famers as well as enthusiasts.
Afterwards, the Brooklyn Cyclones will take on the Staten Island Yankees.
Cusato said that the connection with the Cyclones was made through Stickball Hall of Famer Ray Goffio.
“They had already heard of my film and loved the idea,” he said. “When we went down and sat with them, they pitched the idea of us showing the film before a Cyclones game and then asked if we could put together a stickball game on the field to demonstrate what stickball is to everyone while the film was going on. And I thought it was a great idea and we’ve been running with it for three years.”
The interest in the event has grown since its inception, with bigger crowds and more awareness in promoting an old fashioned game and keeping it alive, especially for younger generations.
“It’s a really important game not only to Brooklyn but throughout all of New York,” Cusato said. “It’s like Junior’s Cheesecake or the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s very much part of the fabric of New York and to see it totally go away would be an absolute shame. Keeping the sport alive and going is one of the reasons for the film and it’s the big reason behind this day that the Cyclones put together.”
The stickball teams have gotten younger through the years. The game started out with older guys that played for the Stickball Hall of Fame. This year, players as young as eight will be playing, along with teenagers and adults. Bobby Kearns, the captain of the Staten Island team, is going to be inducted to the Stickball Hall of Fame on Friday, July 6.
“There’s a genuine love for the game,” Cusato said. “The first two years we saw so many people come out but they didn’t really know what it was. After seeing it, they became that much more interested. When younger people who didn’t play it that much — or never played it and only heard about it through their parents who grew up in the city — actually see it being played, they want to jump in that much more. It gets them excited.”
Cusato and company are excited to play “the poor man’s baseball” in America’s Playground.
“Playing in Coney Island is special on its own,” Cusato said. “The fact that the Cyclones are hosting this event and we get to play on the field that they play on makes it more special.”
The game will be played on Sunday, July 8 at MCU Park. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. The Stickball Game and screening will take place 3 p.m. with the Brooklyn Cyclones game following at 4 p.m. For tickets, visit www.groupmatics.events/event/Stickball2018.