by Steve Wolfe
Punchball was my favorite sport and was played in the lower schoolyard at PS 150. In the 5th grade, there were only two kids who could reliably hit the ball over the fence in right field for a home run. They were Robert Schaefer and Eddie Koehler. Both were terrific natural athletes. They, like most other kids, hit the ball, a Spalding (or “Spaldeen”) pink ball, in an overhand style. I was hitting the ball underhand. At some point, I realized that more power could be developed by hitting the ball overhand.
So I decided to develop an overhand style and practiced it, literally, every day after school and whenever I could. On long days, I would come home with scraped and bloodied knuckles. I engaged in a friendly competition with Allan Ehrlich. Eventually, I was able to hit the ball regularly over the right field fence. From then on, I began counting my home runs, vowing to break Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs which I managed to do. During the year I was in 6th grade, I became only the third kid capable of reliably hitting home runs. The fence in left field surrounded a small garden and was much further out than the right field fence. Only Robert Schaefer could hit the ball there, and then only occasionally. But there was a disappointment in school sports awaiting me at the end of the sixth grade.
It was generally known that there were two classes in the sixth grade that were composed of all the bright kids. All the other kids were sprinkled throughout the other classes. For whatever reason, neither of the bright classes ever won any school championships. But all that was about to change. In the sixth grade, my class had an excellent softball team. In fact, we were in the championship final, with me playing center field and Allan Ehrlich to my right in left field. It was the last inning and we were leading by a run with two outs. One more out and we would win the highly coveted school championship. But Robert Schaefer was at bat. There was a man on base. Schaefer hit a high bloop fly to center field. I raced in to catch it on the fly in a shoestring catch. I had it, or so I thought, until Ehrlich, racing over from left field, collided with me and kicked the ball out of my glove. The man on base scored the tying run and Schaefer raced home with the winning run.
When I encountered Ehrlich quite by accident some sixty-odd years later, he insisted that my version of the incident was inaccurate, that we had simply collided, and had therefore, both been at fault. That loss was such a bitter one for both of us that each of us retained a different memory of exactly what happened. I guess even the passage of many decades could not erase the sting of that defeat for either of us.
Steve Wolfe is a partner with the law firm Eaton and Van Winkle. His interests include amateur photography, philately, tennis, card playing, reading history especially about World War II and the Holocaust, and world travel which has taken him to four continents.