On weekdays when Steve Plerqui was a child, his block on 111th
Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues looked like any other
brownstone-lined street in Spanish Harlem, but on springtime
Sundays the aspiring stickball player's bedroom was the
equivalent of the press box at Yankee Stadium. "I could watch
the best teams in the city playing right outside my window,"
says Plerqui, 25, who elbowed his way onto several men's teams
rosters as soon as he could hoist a broom handle. "I tried all
the sports, but stickball was my passion."
Not since World War II, when stickball battles were waged for
pocket change and neighborhood pride, has the sport been so
popular in New York City. The renaissance began in the early
1990s, when Plerqui and his peers started to form their own
teams to compete with the septuagenarian-laden old-timers'
squads that commanded all of the good asphalt in Harlem and the
Bronx. Since '99 Plerqui's 111th Street Bad Boys have won three
East Harlem Stickball League championships and have crushed
opponents on road trips to Florida and Puerto Rico, two of the
handful of regions outside New York where organized stickball is
"People think stickball is a childhood game--until they get up
to the plate," says Plerqui. "We use thin bats and a small, hard
ball, and you have to have very good instincts."
The 5'2", 156-pound Plerqui is still the youngest and smallest
player on his team. With his incomparably soft hands at the hot
corner and his pinpoint place-hitting from the cleanup spot, he
is also considered the best. "The kid's got a knack for the
game, has always had it," says teammate Candido Martinez. "Guys
in their 50s look to Stevie to teach them." At the same time,
says East Harlem league founder Mo Marrero, "Stevie brings
youngsters into the sport. Kids say, 'Man, I'm not playing this
old man's game.' Then they see Stevie and become inspired."
Getting El Barrio kids onto the streets is one reason why
Plerqui, a courier, insists that the Bad Boys practice at least
twice a week during the spring season. Local kids who shag balls
for the team are rewarded with a dollar for juice and a turn at
the plate with Plerqui's custom-made aluminum stick. "Stickball
brings communities together," says Plerqui, who still lives and
plays on 111th. "It's a sport that isn't going to just fade
away." Neither will Steve Plerqui, if those old-timers still
playing in the street are any indication. --Kelley King
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY