It was Saturday, June 2, 1962. The Mets were playing the San Francisco Giants at the Polo Grounds on 155th street and Eighth Avenue in Harlem. I was selling peanuts in the grandstand, trying to make a buck. I’ll never forget that day; Willie Mays had returned to New York and hadn’t been back since the Giants left in 1957.
Willie was a hero to the kids of Harlem, and the buzz around the neighborhoods was that he was going to play stickball with the kids on the street after the game. I didn’t want to miss his return, so I left the game early. In 1951, when he was rookie of the year with the Giants, Willie played stickball everyday with the local kids.
In the 1950s and ’60s, street games such as stickball were a major part of life in New York. They defined a generation and are a source of nostalgia in characterizing the golden era of New York. The streets are empty now.