There’s basketball. Football. Baseball. Handball. Racquetball. Volleyball. Softball. Dodge ball. Pinball. Okay, so you get my point. A plethora of sports involving not only the use of a ball of some sort but also having the word ‘ball’ in the name of the sport itself. It’s fair to say that humans like playing with balls. Other sports, devoid of the ‘ball’ handle but requiring a ball nonetheless, are tennis, Jai-Alai, bowling, table tennis, billiards, golf, soccer (actually the real football), cricket, squash, and croquet. The list goes on and on but I have already overindulged.
Spheroids of various sizes, weights and composition serve as the centerpiece for many recreational and professional sports in cultures throughout the entire planet. Given how enamored we humans are of all things dimensionally round, it’s no wonder that we find a way to adapt various ‘ball’ sports to fit environments that, on first blush, would not appear conducive to engaging in such sports. Such is my experience growing up in the inner city back in the 60s. Down the Way. Urbania. The Hood.
Understandably, in areas of economical disadvantage, the existence of plush and well-kept athletic facilities is spare at best. Consequently, inner-city inhabitants like the ones in my neighborhood – and neighborhoods across the entire city of Philadelphia – followed a tradition of playing ball sports that were adapted to fit the concrete environment. The game of baseball, in particular, was ripe for a myriad of “rowhouse-neighborhood” replications. Games like stick ball, wire ball, half ball, hosies (a particularly strange mutation requiring the use of three- to four-inch sections of a garden hose as the “ball” and played like half ball), running bases, step ball, wall ball, box ball, kickball. All of these games were a variation of baseball, involving varying degrees of sophistication but including at least the most basic of baseball’s components: outs, runs, and innings played. Half ball, or ‘halfies,’ was the hands-down favorite among my neighborhood peers. It consisted of buying a brand new rubber ball (a ‘pimple’ ball was the preferred choice) which would, immediately upon purchase – for ten cents – be split in half with a razor blade. (This was done only if playing step ball, wall ball, wire ball, stick ball or running bases didn’t trump playing halfies.) The playing field was the street I grew up on, Hollywood, or the next street over, Myrtlewood. (Sometimes we’d go ‘on the road’ and play on 31st Street, a more remote locale where there was no chance of breaking any windows.) At the top of Hollywood St. – which T’d into the much larger Oxford St. – were two large, three-story houses technically located on Oxford St. but whose massive sides ran along either side of the northern tip of Hollywood St, which was barely wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side.
Halfies could be played with as few as two participants and as many as six. The ‘teams’ positioned themselves on either side of the street between the huge buildings, with one team pitching the half spheroids to the other. A sawed-off broom handle served as a bat. One swing and miss was an out. Any hit halfie that didn’t reach the opposite wall or was caught beforehand was an out. A halfie hit against the building across the street at the first floor level and caught by the opposing team before hitting the ground was an out. If not caught, a single. A second-story carom not caught was a double, third-story not caught, a triple. And, of course, if a halfie was hit onto the roof, home run! Each game lasted nine innings.
An incalculable amount of my recreational time growing up was spent playing halfies, much more time than was spent playing actual baseball, which necessitated much more equipment and people, and required having to walk a few blocks to an unkempt City of Philadelphia recreation center baseball field, or a much longer commute to the ball fields located in Fairmount Park. Indeed, halfies was cheap, convenient, and fun.
What more could a ghetto rat ask for?