I grew up in Middle Village and Juniper Valley Park was my backyard. We lived right across the street from the park, near Pullis Cemetery.
Not surprisingly I was heavy into sports, playing handball, softball and basketball. I still have some of the medals my friends and I collected in those early youthful years.
Also, as with all my friends, I had my special, favorite baseball team and player, the Brooklyn Dodgers and my idol, their star centerfielder, #4 Duke Snider. I found the Duke's picture and Ebbets Field schedule and prices from 1952 that you see printed on these pages in my archives. They brought back memories of the carefree days of the early nineteen fifties when I was a young teenager.
Since baseball was such a big player in my world it was easy to make softball my favorite sport and when we formed our neighborhood team, the Chicklets, I was the third baseman. As a female sport player, rare in the early fifties, I wanted to emulate the pros and even harbored a desire to play third base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, talk about dream overdrive!
The Chicklets joined the softball league and I recall having a hard time from the Chiclet gum people over the spelling of the name. We had to change it from Chiclet, to Chicklet with a “k.” No big deal, we liked Chicklet with a “k” better anyway!
Of course I thought I was the best player but my Chicklet teammates would give you an argument! When we meet we still have a “friendly discussion” about who was the star; the joke being whoever kept the scores was the best hitter!
We were all good and when we played in Juniper Valley Park we were such a novelty in the early 1950s that we drew big crowds of onlookers. To my credit and since this is my article (!), as the third baseman I had a good arm, fielded well and thanks to the excellent and very patient coaching of Ed Berg, I was a pretty good hitter. I remember one game when I hit three homeruns. Incidentally, Ed Berg, our coach, shared the same birthday, year and all, with that other beloved Brooklyn Dodger, #1 PeeWee Reese. Hey, life was good in the early fifties!
Nowadays I play a little with my four grandsons and even though I can still hit and throw the ball, they worry about me, after all, to them I'm ancient! After a particularly strenuous little stickball game recently my youngest grandson, James, was heard whispering to his brothers “I hope this doesn't kill grandma.” Cracked me up!
In those days, the early fifties, there were three New York baseball teams; the Brooklyn Dodgers, the NY Giants and the NY Yankees. All the kids had their favorite and boy, did we argue about which team was the best. I was the diehard, devoted Brooklyn Dodger fan and there was no doubt in my mind that they were the greatest. I spent many an afternoon in Ebbets Field with my father and, as I got older, my friends. There is no doubt though that I won the baseball argument, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the best! (Did you hear that, Eddie Vasecheck, wherever you are? He lived across the street from me and he was my Giant fan nemesis. When Bobby Thompson hit that homerun off Ralph Branca in 1951 I never heard the end of it!)
Since I absolutely idolized Duke Snider I couldn't read enough about him or collect enough memorabilia on his career. The Duke's picture and prices of the Ebbets Field games evoked the memory of Dodger owner, Walter O’Malley deciding in 1957 that money ruled and Duke Snider and our beloved Brooklyn bums would have to move to California. There are some oldtimers out there who still haven't recovered from that move.
I share this little piece of Americana with you because the picture of Duke Snider triggered a flashback to his stellar career in Ebbets Field. Needless to say Duke Snider, who now announces the baseball games for the Montreal Expos, never made a salary anywhere near today's brain-numbing figures. However, he still made the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and he did it with no batting glove or wristband or, for that matter, any other batting paraphernalia that the sissies use today! Here's a look at some of his stats, which I got from his website at DukeSnider.com.
I still think you're the greatest, Duke Snider. I know from reports in the media that you too were crushed when the Dodgers moved to California. To his credit Duke Snider has stated many times in interviews that he hated leaving Brooklyn. He loved Brooklyn and the people in it even though he was a native Californian. The Duke, PeeWee, Carl, Gil, Jackie, Ralph, we miss you guys and your no-nonsense approach to the game. When I see some of today's overpaid crybabies miss easy fly balls in the outfield I think of little James' line, “I could have caught that!” You're right James and I think your ancient grandmother too “could have caught that.”
I hope you enjoy this little flashback into the world of a teenager, vintage 1950. I had fun writing it and, let's face it, after fifty years you can hit as many home runs as you want in any one game!