It’s the month of May 1973. Secretariat wins the Kentucky Derby in record time and the Preakness two weeks later. The Watergate hearings begin on television. On May 14th SkyLab is launched. And on that very same Monday night, the first game of the Pomonok Softball League is played. Lukes Dukes, captained by Lloyd Stark, defeats the Dallas Mavericks, captained by his older brother Al Stark. The score was 13-6.
Over 12 years later, in the fall of 1985, the very last game was played. This time Al Stark’s Mavericks beat Bobby Lynch’s Lynch’s Mob for the fall championship. For 12 long years dozens of guys, and a few gals as well, got together under the lights of the small concrete softball field in the P.S. 201 park. They were not only residents of Pomonok. They also lived in Electchester and the environs surrounding the park. Some, like me, who had left Pomonok for New Jersey, returned to the projects every week just to play in the league.
I am by no means an expert on the Pomonok Softball League. I played the first few years, but then the trip from Jersey got to be too much. Guys who were in it to the end probably have a long list of great memories, but for me, who had never before played on an organized sports team, this was an unforgettable experience.
It was arc pitch softball, which is surprisingly difficult to hit because the ball can drop into the plate at a very steep angle. The dimensions of the 201 park were small so hitting the ball over the fence was ruled an out. This was an equalizer for the less powerful hitters, like me. Speed on the bases and agility in the field became more important than power. For the frustrated Babe Ruths, a home run derby was held each season. One year Lloyd Stark hit 12 consecutive balls over the fence to win the derby.
I played third base for Billy Newman’s team Reilly’s Renegades. You had to be a masochist to enjoy playing third base. The ball would come at you at blinding speed, so either you looked like a fool as the ball whizzed right by you or made an astounding grab, diving on cement and skinning your knees and elbows.
Sometimes I would also pitch or play outfield. I enjoyed pitching because a pitcher is involved in every play, but the outfield was difficult for me. My vision was terrible and I had a very rough time seeing the ball under the lights, or rather lack of lights. Rarely were more than half of the lights working at any given time. Sometimes it was so dark out there that the infielders had to direct me towards the vicinity of a pop fly. One nice thing about playing the outfield was being able to watch the sun setting over Flushing.
In 1975, Reilly’s Renegades finished the regular season with a 14 – 2 record. For the championship we face the Castaways led by captain Jaime Herman. We were losing 4 – 2 in the bottom of the ninth and I came up to bat with two outs and a man on second. Somehow I managed to hit a ground ball single through the middle, scoring the runner from second and bringing us within a run. I also was able to advance to second on the play. It was one the premiere moments in my limited sports career.
That brought Billy Newman to the plate. Not only was he our beloved captain, but he was among the best hitters in the league. He ended up winning the MVP that season. I knew that I had to score from second base if Billy got a hit.
Billy hit a screaming line drive into the outfield and I took off. I was ready to dive into home on the concrete if I had to. But the ball found it’s way directly into the center fielder’s glove. We lost the championship game to the Castaways 4 – 3.
I remember Billy taking it hard. He didn’t care about the MVP trophy. He felt he had let the team down. It was a tough way to end a 14 – 2 season.
But looking 40 years back on that last game, I realize that losing the championship meant little. What really counted in those wonderful years of Pomonok softball was the competition, the comaradie and the red sunsets over Flushing.