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He dialed 8: Stranded founder phones in to annual stickball game

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Photo gallery

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Young blood: Young timer captain Michael Mallett runs the bases.
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At bat: Joe Picarello batted for the Young Timers.
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Swing for the fences: Players gave it their all as the old timers and young timers duked it out for dominance.
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Outta here: Old timer player Ronny Smith dominated at bat.

Bay Ridge’s old-timers stickball game got by on some new-fangled technology.

The founder of the 48-years-and-running annual game couldn’t make it to the old neighborhood for this year’s match, so he used a smartphone to video conference in. Peter Syrdahl, who hasn’t missed a game since the group’s founding in 1968, injured himself on vacation in California and was not able to fly back home to Bay Ridge in time, but he had to make an appearance — even via the FaceTime iPhone app — because the event means that much to him, he said.

“It sounds trite, but stickball is my life,” said Syrdahl, 70. “I spend all year thinking about and planning this. I’ve never missed a game, so it was important that I be there in some way.”

Syrdahl may not have physically crossed the plate, but fellow players are ruling him home safe anyway, one said.

“It’s a testament to his devotion. He’s very passionate about this. He was definitely here in spirit. I guess technically he still made it,” said Ronny Smith, 67, also of Bay Ridge.

The stickball tradition started when Syrdahl and friends vowed in 1968 to return to gather in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge each year for a game of stickball and to reminisce about the good old days. Today, people travel from as far as Norway to get to the reunion.

The 40-or-so players who showed up this year played on teams representing the “old” old-timers and the “young” old-timers. The older team — composed of players mostly in their 60s and 70s — got a thrashing from the younger team in the first game, losing 25–4. But the oldsters made a comeback (sort of) and lost by the narrower margin of 9–8 in the second game.

The game has grown to include younger family and friends who will carry on the tradition once the old-timers are no longer able to swing for the fences, Smith said.

“I will go there ’til I die. And if a day comes where I can’t swing, maybe I’ll go down and watch and let the younger fellas carry it on,” he said.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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