Baseball, Brooklyn, & Me - Summer Memories From the Past and For the Future
By Martin Lenkowsky / July 1, 2015
Baseball season is in full swing - pardon the awful pun - and it always brings to the surface pleasant memories of warm summer evenings growing up on the concrete sidewalks of Brooklyn. I lived in Sheepshead Bay, a quiet, residential neighborhood not far from Coney Island's world-famous beach and amusement park.
Everyone in Brooklyn was defined by his or her block. Mine was Haring Street between avenues X and Y. We lived in a multi-story set of buildings called Nostrand Gardens cooperative. On summer evenings, most of the adults - my parents included - would sit on beach chairs or benches enjoying the cooling sea breeze that actually made New York's hot, sticky summer somewhat tolerable. I actually believed my mom when she said only our block felt the ocean breeze. While our moms and dads talked about work, Cold War politics, or gossiped about the neighbors, we kids played.
Then there was Cubby; at least that was what we all called him. I admit these 50-plus years or so later I forgot his real name. Cubby was a friend and contemporary of my mom and dad. He was also a baseball fanatic. He adored the Yankees. Actually, growing up in Brooklyn in the '50s meant a lot of mixed baseball loyalties. Some were Brooklyn Dodger fans; others - including my dad - loved the New York Giants; by process of elimination, the rest had their beloved Yankees.
It's funny how certain childhood memories seem to really stand out in the crowd. I distinctly remember crying when my dad read us the newspaper article that the Giants and Dodgers were San Francisco and L.A. bound respectively. I guess looking back at it now that was simply a harbinger of sports in today's world. Sports teams are nothing more than big business to the owners. The fans be damned. The intensity of the so-called "subway series" meant not a thing to these mega-wealthy fat cats. To them, the beckoning shores of the Pacific coastline were the Promised Land.
Okay, back to Cubby. Whenever a Yankee night game was on, he'd park himself in front of our building on his blue beach chair listening on his little portable AM radio with its shiny metallic antennae sticking out like some menacing prehistoric insect. And when Cubby tuned into Bronx Bomber baseball, we all - mostly the boys and our dads - would listen intently to the action.
I remember how a particular custom started on our street, thanks to Cubby and his blessed radio. The game was about to begin and our National Anthem was being sung. Expectedly we paid little attention to it, being pre-adolescent boys we were too busy horsing around to stop and listen.
That's when my dad, along with his best friend Leo - our building's board of directors president - intervened. And get this: they actually made us stand up and put our little hands upon our chests till the Star-Spangled Banner and Pledge of Allegiance were finished. I even remember my dad's words: "You'd do this if you were at the game, so consider yourself at the game." Being rebellious little brats, we scoffed at this idea. In our 5- to 10-year-old minds we figured half the world would laugh at us. Surprisingly, no one did. In fact, other kids joined in and a new tradition was born.
As I look back upon this now, so many years later, I can't help but feel appreciative of what our fathers tried to instill in us. Just about each and every one of them was a World War II veteran. Some of the younger dads had only returned from Korea a few years before. Not only had they each served their country honorably, they were all the children of immigrants who had arrived on our shores seeking a better life for themselves and their families. They loved and respected America and what it stood for.
I can only hope I've been as successful in passing on those same values of love and appreciation of community and country to my now grownup children. In a few months I'm going to become a grandfather for the first time. I already have a blue beach chair. I wonder if I can still buy a small portable AM radio.
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