Every Sunday at McCarren, the neighborhood bars slug it out in one of the most raucous, hilarious softball leagues known to New York. Black Betty, Enids, Turkeys Nest, Petes Candy Store, Sweetwater, Brooklyn Ale House, Arena Rock, Union Pool: the places you get sponged at on Saturday night have an altar ego come morning. Strolling through the park on any given Sunday this summer, you might have seen them. If it looked like everyone knew each other, they did. If it looked like there were homerun-slugging heroes and merciless villains, there were. If it looked like a bizarre, heartfelt incarnation of patriotic pie, it was.
Who knew that a neighborhood so steeped in anarchist subculture could possibly love baseball, Americas most conventional red-blooded sport, so damn much. With the help of some lively mainstays from the early days (revered Godfathers Vinny, Al and Bud), the league managed to bully on through the late 90s. By the summer of 2000, however, it would see major changes. The neighborhood had been rapidly growing, and with that change came a slew of new problems. With more teams popping up and ringers being fought over, some sort of order would have to be instituted. Games moved over to the clay, records were kept and playoffs established. By 2001, with the help of Ian Bassin (Shout Magazines mild-mannered publisher by day, Turkeys Nest meticulous chief by night), rules were drawn up, two divisions (Northside and Southside) emerged, and everyone had the fever. Late into the neighborhood nightlife, those in the know no longer coolly discussed the emerging art scene or their failing writing careers, but heatedly argued softball.
Thankfully, the lack of umpires and a couple of notorious rousers kept some traditions intact. Foul lines and strike zones continue to inspire heated ten minute screaming matches, which onlookers maintain are the real entertainment to behold. Vinny, the leagues cherished O.G. still pitches wildly fast from an unprecedented ten feet away. Enids tyrannical front man, Clay, gleefully continues to vie for the Ty Cobb award with his cleat-digging antics. Al will still argue a foul ball till you either relent or stop breathing, either way hell take the call. And Andy, Petes ridiculously good shortstop, takes indecent pleasure in robbing unwitting waifs of base hits. Need I mention everyones still too whitewashed from the night before to play to their full potential, although the action you do see is terrifically spirited. Who needs a Subway Series when youve got the pompadoured rockabilly boys of Union Pool going head to head with the tattooed punk princes of Sweetwater in your own back yard?
As with all things divine, theres no official way to join the ruckus. There are no numbers to call, no lists to sign up for, no tryouts to attend (although I hear theyre coming). The resounding sentiment is, if you want to play you just sort of show up. Of course, being a drunk or at least knowing a boozy helps, seeing how most recruiting goes on around 2 am at local watering holes.
Meanwhile, the league appears to have come full circle. This year, veterans Vinny and Al reunited to form The A/T All Stars, the A and T standing, respectively, for Alzheimers and Tourettes. They are closing in on the Southside title with Black Betty breathing down their necks. At press time, Enids leads the Northside division with Petes and Turkeys each one game behind. Soon, the playoffs will determine the Definitive Champeen and theyll own bragging rights all winter long.
That is, of course, until the whole circus starts back up in the spring.
Go on, be a fan. The championship game is scheduled for September 30th, at 2:00, in McCarren Park.
[email protected] | September 2001 | Issue 18
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