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July 11, 2017 / Sports

Old-timers: Film shines light on baseball’s historic beginnings

Rounding the bases: The Cyclones hosted the second Stickball Hall of Fame Game at MCU Park on July 9, honoring the history of the often forgotten game.
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Call it the all-but-forgotten sport.

The names of athletes who played it are not remembered, their statistics were never recorded, their highlights never preserved on film.

Brooklyn filmmaker Jay Cusato is working to change that, by shining a new light on the long-dormant urban sport of stickball with his documentary “When Broomsticks Were King.” He’s getting help from the Brooklyn Cyclones, which held its second annual “Stickball Day” at MCU Park July 9, screening Cusato’s film and hosting a Stickball Hall of Fame Game on the field before the Cyclones-Staten Island Yankees contest.

“I’m so happy and honored that the Cyclones have made this an annual event,” said Cusato, who directed, produced and edited the documentary. “The nostalgia that people get from the day, that alone makes me feel good.”

The exhibition gave uninitiated spectators a look at what stickball is: a game played with a broomstick used as a bat and a pink Spalding ball on city streets — preferably fitted with manhole covers — in neighborhoods across Brooklyn and the rest of the city in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and into the 60s.

Cusato said that as a youth, he often heard tales of local stickball glory from his father, uncles and other relatives. There were never any trophies at stake, and very few organized tournaments, but the block-versus-block rivalries were just as fierce and the memories just as lasting.

“It was really about neighborhoods and bragging rights,” he said. “What that did was it created long-lasting friendships, because the guys that grew up playing stickball together, as they got older when they’d get together those are the stories that they’d talk about.”

Those lifelong bonds and friendships, Cusato said, were the inspiration for “When Broomsticks Were King,” which won awards at several film festivals between 2001 and 2011. But the filmmaker insists he was never more proud than at last year’s inaugural “Stickball Day” at MCU Park.

“That first year was probably my proudest over all the awards that we’ve won,” Cusato said. “Because it now leads to something that’s going to hopefully last a really long time, it’s going to be an annual thing.”

The Cyclones plan to hold “Stickball Day” annually, and stickball leagues still do compete every weekend in Harlem and the Bronx. Cusato hopes that those events will lead to a stickball renaissance, if only on a smaller scale.

“We will never have what we did 50 to 60 years ago, but if young kids are playing it and passing the game on, they can kind of realize what it was to the city and the kids that grew up at that time,” he said.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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