Swing batter, batter — “half”-ing a ball at East Falls’ annual halfball tournament.
UPDATE (9/13): Unfortunately the halfball tournament will not be played this year, but there will still be a neighborhood party and all are invited!
Halfball, half-rubber, pimpleball, stickball — doesn’t matter what you call one of Philly’s oldest street games, as long as you have a neighborhood corner to play on, a broomstick, and half of a rubber ball, you’ve got a game. Oh and it doesn’t hurt to have good friends and food to go with it.
Luckily there’ll be plenty of both at the 5th annual Frank’s Pizza Halfball tournament on Saturday September 19th. Emilio Straface, owner of Frank’s, created the tournament/block party to celebrate the game of his youth and reunite with friends from his old neighborhood (and meet new ones).
When they take the “field” at Fisk Avenue and Dobson Street, Emilio and his friends will talk trash and try to hit one past the fire hydrant, just like they did when they were kids. They’ll swap stories and, just like in the old neighborhood, new (younger) players will be eager to compete, so they’ll play until dark — with bragging rights still on the line.
As an Italian immigrant in East Falls in the 1950s, Emilio learned many things about his new country, but nothing was as much fun as halfball. Day after day, Emilio and his friends played in front of his family’s corner store at Fisk and Dobson.
Like lots of kids in East Falls, they used broomsticks as bats and cut their own rubber balls. But the similarities with other halfball games on other blocks ended there. The physical characteristics of Dobson Street — its lampposts, fire hydrants, and manhole covers — marked the boundaries of the playing field.
It defined the game as much as the vacant lots on Calumet Street or the factory on Indian Queen Lane did for the kids in those areas.
Batters on Dobson Street didn’t have to worry about empty lots or factory walls. They worried about Emilio’s pitching. He threw with either hand and could make the halfball curve, slide, rise, or dip suddenly into the strike zone, leaving batters swinging at the air. Although batters bragged about many stats, no one bragged about batting averages because, according to Emilio, “if you were hitting .100, you were doing pretty good.”
And the misses could be humbling. Occasionally, batters swung so hard that the bat flew out of their hands and would shatter nearby windows — one of the hazards of a game played in narrow city streets. When Emilio’s father stormed out on the porch to yell, another common hazard, it broke up the game for a little while. (In addition to breaking glass, it didn’t help that brooms went missing from his store on game days.) But Emilio and his friends were back at it the very next day.
Some things have changed since Emilio’s family first arrived in the 1950s — the corner store owned by Emilio’s father is now Frank’s Pizza; the field on Dobson Street is no longer in the shadow of the Schuylkill Falls high-rises; and the Strafaces built a house on Dobson Street. But the field and the game remain the same and they’re coming to life again.
The tournament is open to anyone and everyone. If you ever wanted to hit one over the hydrant (or the Chuck Taylors on the power lines)–or just enjoy watching others try, then Frank’s Pizza Halfball Tournament (and block party!) is for you. For more information, or to sign up, call Frank’s Pizza at 215-848- 6433 or check out the Facebook page.
Frank’s Pizza Halfball Tournament
Where: 3600 Fisk Ave. (Dobson and Fisk) 19129
When: Saturday 9/19 2PM til 10PM