Life at Sloane House YMCA

2006-05-24

Becoming a Great Lawn Pick-Up Game Junkie

It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without Mets baseball. Lucky for me, I became a huge Mets fan soon after I came to New York City. And Tim McCarver had a lot to do with it. His simple, clear yet masterful baseball analysis was and still is the best way to learn baseball. He is Master McACarver! In the middle of August, only 2 weeks after I came to Sloane House, Mr. McAfee gave me a baseball ticket. “It’s American sports. You have to come.” Mr. McAfee had worked abroad before he became Executive Director of Sloane House, so he knew the thought process of people like me. All international staff felt very comfortable with him. Mr. McAfee took all of us to Shea Stadium. It was between Mets and Cubs that night. None of the international staff really knew anything about baseball rules but we all enjoy the game. It was YMCA night and everyone from YMCA got a Mets Year Book. Mr. McAfee pointed one player and said to me: “This is Ron Darling, the only Chinese American playing baseball. He is doing many good things at Chinatown YMCA.” I did not remember who the Mets pitcher was, but I sure remembered the pitch for Chicago: it was Rick Sutcliff. I was impressed by his poise when he walked off the mount after each innings. Towards the end of the game, there was loud chanting from the audience “Darryl, Darryl…” The chanting was for a player called Darryl Strawberry. I thought it was beautiful but a strange name, a name after a fruit. Mets lost the game that night. But from that day on, I gradually became a Mets fan and was hooked on baseball. Tim McCarver was and still is the best baseball play-by-play TV announcer. No one can explain baseball rules better than Master McCarver. Besides Mets games was my first baseball game, this was another reason why I became Mets fan: Ron Darling. How could I not be a Mets fan when it was the only major league team that had a Chinese American in it? Well, he was half Chinese.

Tii left Sloane House two months after I got here. Gary from Student Center on 3rd floor filled her position. Gary was a true New Yorker. He was loud and funny. Part of me like him alot and part of me just wanted him to stay away from me. But overall he was a likable person, if all this makes any sense. One of his “missions”, he said to me, was to teach me to play softball. “Knowing how to play softball will Americanize you faster.” He said in a cynical way. But I didn't care. I appreciated his effort in helping me.

I was athletic. So it didn’t take me too long to learn playing the game. On the weekends he took us to softball fields in Central Park by 63rd Street entrance. But it was hard to sometimes to get a field to play. So we moved to a less grassed and less crowded fields at Great Lawn.

Right under Shakespeare Castle, there were 6 playing fields. Field 6 was always occupied by CPAH players from 11:00 Saturday morning to 6:00 Sunday afternoon. CPAH stood for Central Park Ass Holes, a name we gave to those guys. They were intense and completive softball playing people. They had played with each other for many years and they would not let anyone else get in the game. Once in a while, they would agree to play with us. Not that we wanted to play with them. But their arrogance and their superior attitude towards us that made us want to beat them badly. I was a pitcher, hitting was not my game. So these guys would intentionally move in from the outfield, just to mock my hitting ability. One day I hit the ball real hard and it sealed over the center fielder’s head and kept rolling and rolling…I had a base-clearing, Great Lawn-type of home run. It drove these guys crazy and we all enjoyed it very much. We were laughing and talked about every details of that home run on our way to McDonald’s after the game. But I gave them credit, the center fielder, who made fool of himself for coming in so much to cause that home run, came to shake my hand to congratulate me for a solid hit after the inning was over. That was Great Lawn spirits.

Some fields reserved by some corporates for their employees recreational purpose. So most of the time there were about 3 fields left for pick up games. With limited fields available, winners stayed on. Losers took a seat and had to wait for next game. From time to time, people who were waiting in the long line for the Shakespeare plays would join us for a game or so, just to make the day pass by easily. I studied Shakespeare’s at college. It would have been a dream came true for me to see Shakespeare plays in Central Park. But Great Lawn softball pickup games were priceless for me and nothing could come between me and Great Lawn softball pick-up games. There were drama and unpredictable endings in each game and best of all, I was on the center stage. I was the most winning pitcher from our “league”, if you could call it. I became a “legend” for pitching a one-hit game. Eddie, the third baseman for that game told me he had never played a one-hit game, nor had he heard of it, ever since he started playing softball at Great Lawn. Given his age, I think I had made a “history” at Great Lawn. Since I was not much of a hitter, this was the only thing I can brag about it to my “teammates”.

Eddie was a unique person. He always wore that same 60’s hippie style t-shirt every weekend. I could spot him miles away. At age 50 or so, he was the best 3rd baseman in the game. But that’s not the reason I remembered him. What impressed me was his porn collection, his knowledge of porn stars: a couple of times, he brought his porn collection to the ball park. The collection was a thick, 3rd grade notebook with glued cut-outs of the porn videos. I don’t know if he knew who the president of the United States was but he could tell the names of every porn stars and their specialties in that notebook. But more bizarre thing was his girlfriend sat right next to us when Eddie was flipping the pages and boasting his collections. Showing off your knowledge of porn is one thing, but doing it while your girlfriend was right next to you? I think there was a serious self-esteem issue. Well, who is the judge for that?

Another unique character was “Little Ricky” His name was not “Little Ricky”. We called him “Little Ricky” because he was 5.0’ and always wore his clean Ricky Henderson’s full uniform every weekend. Not only he dressed like Ricky Henderson, he even imitated how Ricky Henderson caught fly balls. The funny thing was he dropped most of the fly balls in the outfield. If you couldn’t steal the base (not allowed in softball), unable to catch a fly ball, and couldn’t get on base, a right minded person would be subtle about his demeanor and style. Real Ricky Henderson was not known for humbleness in Major League, nor was our “Little Ricky”. He didn’t care much about anyone’s comments or chuckles. He came to Great Lawn weekends after weekends, with the same attitude, the same clean uniform and just enjoyed the game, even he was not good at it. Everyone of us had been made fun of by the crowd, but who cares? That's the spirit of Great Lawn softball.

There was no Great Lawn Spirit without Diego. A son of a well-known political film maker of Argentina, his mom took him to the US when he was 4, after his dad was murdered by Argentine police. Ever since then, he hated police. He was one of the least “talented” players in the game, but we all liked him. His fun in the park was hanging out under the sun every weekend, making joints in between innings, or games, get stoned and be mellow the entire day.

Playing softball pick-up games at Great Lawn was the most relaxing time I ever had since I came to America. It was the fun, the openness and freedom Great Lawn gave me that no other place could offer. I went there every weekend religiously. It was quite therapeutic.

Die-hard players like me played from spring till the end of summer, without taking a day off, not even when it was 100 degree humid July 4th weekend. We would play from noon till dark, then get a bite at McDonald or a pizza place nearby for dinner to mark the end of the day. For us, Great Lawn was not just a playground for softball games. It was an emotional sanctuary. There was no prejudice, no repercussions, no harassment, no worries, no guilt, no responsibilities... just grass, fresh air, blue sky and softball. It was pure joy and laughters. It was pure excitement and enjoyment. As if I was in another world when I stepped on the grass of Great Lawn. It enabled me to forget my loneliness, unhappiness, homesickness. Great Lawn has its own culture. it is the best place on earth, if you can play softball in the summer.

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