Cinder Stadium: Over the Fence is Out!
By Vince Romano, June 2005
I grew up in Taylor Street’s Little Italy, the Hull House neighborhood. I share this with the other members of the Taylor Street Archives. I’m sure there are many stories that have come out of the old neighborhood. This story I cherish. I have given it a chapter in my memoirs: “Over the Fence is Out!
Alongside of Goodrich School, on Taylor Street, between Peoria and Sangamon Streets, was a 3 sided concrete rectangular shaped block. This open ended rectangular shaped concrete box was used to dump the cinders from the school’s furnace. Within that 20 foot span between the school building and the concrete box was the infield of our softball field which, by default, became known as Cinder Stadium. Cinder Stadium is where we played softball when we were growing up in our section ofTaylor Street’s LittleItaly…the Hull House Neighborhood. It was home field to thePeoria,SangamonandNewberry Streetguys. On occasion we would host theMorgan Streetguys or the Taylor Halsted guys fromDanteSchoolyard. The Morgan Fads held the territory just west of us and the Tay-Hals held the territory just east of us.
The infield was so narrow that the pitcher was also the first baseman. The telephone pole separated the pitcher from the 3rd baseman. The outfielders played both in front of and behind the 3 foot concrete wall in deep center field, depending upon who was at bat. Over that 3 foot concrete wall was an alley that spanned approximately 15 feet to a 3 story greystone building in which the Salerno family lived. (The Salerno brothers included Mouse and Louie, who eventually became known for their Vegas careers, and Bobby Salerno, who developed a reputation of his own in Chicago.)
The right side of the infield pressed against a series ofGoodrichSchool’s roof tops. The roof tops were of varying heights (some with and some without gutters). In addition there was a maze of fire escapes running from the lowest rooftop to the highest rooftop. Given the geography of the playing field, one can imagine the complexities of the rules one faced when playing in Cinder Stadium.
Every day during the summer vacation, for those who weren’t away at the Bowen Country Club (the Jane Adams’ Hull House Summer Camp), we played ball at least 8 hours per day. There were usually 20 or more of us who showed up daily to play. The Orricos from Newberry Street had enough brothers to make up 2 teams just by themselves. Other regulars included the DeMennas (Moe and Bunny) fromTaylor Street; the Locontes, DiLorenzos and Balices fromSangamon Street; the Romanos and Salernos fromPeoria Street, and so on. Each day we agreed on who were to be the captains. The captains then selected 4 or more rounds of players—depending upon how many guys showed up that day. Each team had at least 5 players and there were at least 4 teams playing each day.
The games were short–only 5 innings. The winning team continued to play while the losing team dropped out and waited to play a future winner when it was their turn again. We sometimes chipped in to buy a windy city softball. The ball, thanks to our sartorial skills with needle and string, would often last several weeks. We always played for money. Regardless of how little we could afford, we always played for money (I still wonder, to this day, whether betting on neighborhood softball games was a universal thing or was it strictly a Taylor Street phenomenon).
Over the fence is out!
Sometime after WWII, our age group (ages 15 and 16) played the “big guys” (18-19 yrs). We played them on a dare. We were playing for 25 cents per man. We had a pretty athletic bunch of guys and typically held our own against the “big guys” in most athletic endeavors. The game was a tight low scoring game, as were most games that were played in Cinder Stadium. Right field was the roof tops of Goodrich School which was out (unless, among other things, the ball first hit the telephone pole). Left field was beyond the 3 sided concrete blockhouse that held the cinders from the school’s furnace and was also out unless…
The only safe place to hit the ball was straight center field. I came to bat in the bottom of the fifth and last inning with the winning run on base. I hit the ball over the concrete wall in center field, past the alley, past the Salerno’s back yard, and over their 3 story roof top. Our ecstasy was only temporary. As I rounded 3rd base, the umpire, urged by the members of the other team, (or possibly because he was in league with them) called me out. The ruling conjured up by the “big guys,” in this complex ball park, with its set of complex rules, was, “since I lost the ball by hitting it over and past the rooftops lining centerfield, it was an out.” Had I simply hit it over the 3 foot fence, or over the yard, or deep into the converging alley (retrievable in each instance), it would have been a home run.
We had some tough kids in our age group. An example was Richie Guerrero who went on to the Olympics where he knocked Floyd Patterson out of the ring. Patterson later went on to become the heavyweight champion of the world. (For whatever statement it may make, Richie Guerrero was far from being the toughest guy.) Despite our pedigree, at ages 15 and 16, we were forced to concede to the muscle of the “big guys.”
Over the fence is out! As I grew older and endured my personal struggles for a place in the corporate world and a share of the American dream, I discovered, on numerous occasions and in a variety of situations, that Cinder Stadium was not the only place where the decision makers can conclude, at their discretion, when “over the fence” can be reinterpreted as an out. The only difference was that in the world of the “AmeriGans” muscle gave way to the golden rule. “He, who has the gold, makes the rules.”
The Taylor Street Archives should be filled with stories such as this. They depict the uniqueness that set us apart as “Taylormade.”
Contributor: Ralph DiLorenzo, member of the Peoria Flashes.