Play Ball, my Mantra, Mr. Hackett, my Nemesis

by Bob Stonehill

          Growing up in Sunnyside Gardens, it seemed that all my needs and aspirations were well served. "Play Ball" was my mantra.  We lived in the three family end row house situated on an alley that ran from 46th to 45th Street.  I slept with my baseball glove and bat under the covers as I listened to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, the Fat Man stepping on the scale, and Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Riders, amongst others.  Brooklyn Dodgers games after my 9 PM lights off was my secret, listening to my radio in the dark under the covers. 

 

          During the day, I drew a chalk box on a brick wall of my house and spent hours honing my pitching skills. I would aim for the corners of the box like all better major league pitchers or blast away, sometime splitting the rubber ball at seams.

In the years 1950-1954, I was a rabid fan.  Following the six team National League action, reading the daily box scores and living pitch to pitch.

 

          In 1955, instead of going to sleep away camp, my parents hit the pause button and I simply "hung out," mostly in the newly constructed Torsney Park at Skillman and 43rd Street. That summer the Dodgers dominated the National League and won the pennant in a runaway.  The phrase, "Wait till next year," showed the annual disappointment of a team that for 75 years had never won a World Series while the Yankees in their league were annual champions.  But that year, boredom and a sense of malaise set in so that with my team finally possessing a runaway lead, I was no longer interested.  Maybe my interest in girls was partly to blame.  One day I came face to face with Anita Fruchter who displayed romantic notions, but I failed to pursue her hints.

 

          In that same summer Susan Chertock and I were hitting tennis balls against the handball wall on 43rd Street when a group of antagonists approached us with threatening intentions.  The smallest kid in the group proceeded to kick at my bike. Naturally, I objected and they accused me of picking on a little kid.  They then sent up the biggest kid in the group to challenge me.  Instead of throwing punches, I applied the Bob Stonehill Bear Hug and wrestled him to the ground, ending the confrontation.  I rode off on my bike under a hail of stones that luckily didn't reach me.

 

          That September, I followed my friends to attend Music and Art High School.  My 46th Street buddies Gene Turitz, Danny Levy and Peter Greenblatt had entered the school the year before, all more talented musicians than I.  What I didn't realize was that Peter and Danny had just left Music & Art, transferring into Bryant High School in Astoria.  My first year at M&A was a disaster. The long trip to upper Manhattan was a strain as were the scholastic requirements.  It was hastily decided that I would leave M&A and go to Bryant midyear. 

 

           My very first day at Bryant was eventful.  Sitting with my friends at lunch break, I felt a stabbing pain in my shoulder.  Mr. Hackett, the Dean of Boys and the appointed enforcer was driving his finger repeatedly to make a point.  No words were spoken.  Pointing to the floor, he indicated that I should police the area.  I got the message.  As I reached for paper trash, my eyes locked onto a plastic holder stuffed with over 20 pens and pencils in Mr. Hackett’s breast pocket.  Trancelike, I came up to him and placed the papers in his pocket.  In a flash of rage, Mr. Hackett lifted me into the air leaving my feet to dangle above ground.   Sensing that he was about to do me severe harm, my friends cried out that this was my first day, and that I didn't know the rules.  Finally, Mr. Hackett dropped me to the floor.  In the next three years, I stayed clear of Mr. Hackett who passed me in the halls with a constant glare.