Playing Ball on the Street and the Good Old ‘Pinkie’

By Phineas J. Stone

I was reminded by a recent article in the Sun about playing ball in the street or on the greenies.

I was further reminded of it when I recently saw an old picture of the South End – when it extended all the way up to Tyler Street before the days of the Pike – and boys were playing ball in a sliver of an alleyway on a street that likely no longer exists.

Summer brings about a nostalgia for me about ball playing – and especially ball playing where ball playing wasn’t allowed. Ball playing meant any kind of game you could devise using a ball. It didn’t have to be stickball, baseball or catch. A boy’s mind was free to create just about any game for any moment, just as long as it had a ball in it.

In the recent article in the Sun, neighborhood fixture Duffy talked about an old sign on his building put up by the previous owner a generation ago to keep he and his brother from banging a ball on the steps and wall of the building. The funny piece was he now owns that building, and mandates that the sign stay in place as a reminder of the past.

Kids used to crowd the streets from sun up to sun down with a ball.

Maybe it wasn’t even a ball.

Maybe it was a rock.

More often than not it was wads of old newspaper taped together with black tape one of us would lift from one of our fathers. The taped up newspaper ball was ok, but the preference for everyone was an old ‘Pinkie.’ (It’s actually spelled ‘Pinky,’ but in Boston we like to add an ‘-ie’ to everything, and we also spell any ‘-er’ ending with the old ‘-re’. Just how it is. Apologies to the English professors in the audience).

They still make the Pinkie, and I saw one the other day in a box store and had a little laugh.

The Pinkie was a very thin-walled pink ball, almost like a racquet ball, but with an incredible bounce. The Pinkie is made of an exclusive blend of rubber and foam and is meant to bounce, roll and operate well in tight spaces – like the city in the old days.

Most of the time as a kid in the summer, I didn’t have the luxury of sleeping late like some of the others in the neighborhood. During the day, I could do about anything I wanted, but when school was out, my father demanded I get up when he did – which was somewhere in the 5:30 a.m. range. After helping out and getting things ready (there really was no morning television to watch or the wealth of cartoons on cable TV or Netflix that kids have today), it was just a waiting game for the fun of the day to begin.

That didn’t happen until everyone woke up and came out on their stoops.

I spent hours bouncing the Pinkie against stoops on the street, just waiting and watching the adults file out and head off to work.

Like old Duffy in the Sun article, I had an old man who hated hearing the sound of the Pinkie bouncing or the shouts of us kids.

He would chase us off and yell, telling us not to play ball on the street.

“Go to the schoolyard,” he would yell.

If he was literate, I’m sure he would have put out an old sign too.

There was really nothing ever made as good as the Pinkie ball for bouncing against steps, playing stickball in an alley or even using it as a worthy substitute for the real ball in a game of Jacks.

Of course, my favorite thing to do was “burn out” my buddies when they would finally come out the door in the morning – a good, accurate fastball to the noggin’ with the old Pinkie provided a great laugh after having had to wait for three hours for the crew to finally come out for the day’s double header on the greenie.

There really isn’t much ball playing like that at all going on in the neighborhood streets.

I’m not going to wax disappointedly too much about that.

There’s still a huge amount of ball playing going on. Check out Peters Park any night of the week, or even Ramsey Park on the weekends. Lots of kids are playing ball, but the adults are coordinating it.

It’s just a different time. Things now are organized and supervised, and that’s probably better because the risks to kids who are out and about nowadays are far greater. There are too many pitfalls and dangers for an unsupervised child in the neighborhood – whether it’s impatient drivers speeding about, young men shooting with guns, creeps who want to do harm, folks who relish the chance to smoke reefer in public or the endless addicts roaming the streets, the sidewalks are no longer made for a child like they used to be.

There, likewise, isn’t much use for the old Pinkie anymore in a child’s life. I kept my Pinkie under lock and key basically. I got one every year in my Christmas stocking and it had to last all year or it was back to newspapers and electrical tape. It was an important piece of equipment in my childhood, and pretty much every other city kid I knew.

I had to chuckle though the other day, as it seems the old Pinkie is still very popular.

But not with children.

The Pinkie has now been deemed ideal for massage therapy, Yoga, acupuncture accessories and Pilates – whatever those are. They sell them in the top spas and salons all over Boston.

Now isn’t that just a worthy trick for how time passes?

Another win for the new world order; another loss for nostalgia.

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