Coney Island

Stickball documentary to screen this weekend at MCU Park

July 10 Marks Stickball Day in Brooklyn

July 6, 2016 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Filmmaker Jay Cusato with his father Vincent Cusato, who is in the Stickball Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of Jay Cusato

“When Broomsticks Were King,” a documentary by Jay Cusato, celebrates the beloved longstanding Brooklyn sport that is still played today. It will be screened during Old Timers Day at MCU Park in Coney Island on Sunday, July 10, with gates opening at 11:30 a.m. There will be a stickball demonstration followed by a screening of the film.  Brooklyn Borough Hall will also be declaring the day “Stickball Day in Brooklyn U.S.A.” At 1 p.m., a more complicated version of stickball — called American baseball — will take place when the Brooklyn Cyclones play the Hudson Valley Renegades.

The game of stickball, an early form of baseball, became an urban rite of passage for neighborhood kids looking for a way to emulate the legendary baseball players of their time. Stickball was first played in New York City in the late 19th century, and gained popularity during the Great Depression.

On the streets of Brooklyn all you needed was a broomstick, a rubber ball and a couple of sewer caps. The local rivalries sometimes became intense when teams from different streets competed in unofficial leagues. The prize of winning the local stickball championship did not include trophies or champagne celebrations, but merely the precious pride of neighborhood bragging rights.

Denis Hamill of the Daily News said, “I bounced in my seat watching ‘When Broomsticks Were King: A Tribute to Stickball and the Heroes Who Played.’ It hit me like a three-sewer shot because most of what I know about life I learned from stickball. So it was pure nostalgic pleasure to watch ‘Broomsticks.’”

The inspiration and the subjects for the film are very close to the filmmaker. “My uncles and my dad played stickball all the time growing up. I played the game a little when I was younger but their stories were the stuff of legends. I made this short film as a tribute to them and that era,” says director Jay Cusato, whose relatives and their friends, with names like “Boom Boom” Nunzio, Pauly “The Legend” Ganuch, “The Natural” and “The Spanish Guy,” appear in the film. 

There is an enduring quality to this 2001 documentary that details an earlier time in Brooklyn. “There’s something about the character of Brooklyn back then, combined with the accents of the actual people talking about their love of the game, that strikes a chord with broomstick enthusiasts and people who never heard of the game almost equally,” says Cusato. “A lot of people I don’t know tell me at screenings how the film makes them happy. It might be nostalgia but it’s a happy nostalgia.” 

The attention “When Broomsticks Were King” has received has garnered the film a number of awards. It has also helped several of the players featured in the movie — Vincent Cusato (Cusato’s father), Joey Hodges (Cusato’s cousin), and John D’Allesio (Cusato’s uncle) — to gain induction into the Stickball Hall of Fame.

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