Brooklyn Boro

A special place at East 23rd and Avenue V

October 12, 2021 Andy Furman
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The hallowed ground is located at East 23rd Street and Avenue V. Who knew?

It’s the P.S. 206 playground, but for those in the know, it is truly a special place.

At least Howard Kellman thinks so.

“It was our hangout,” he told the Eagle. “We played stickball, softball and basketball there,” he said.

But unlike other Brooklyn playgrounds, this was the birthplace of future sports heroes.

“Vince Lombardi played here,” said Kellman who just completed his 45th year calling baseball games for the Indianapolis Indians. 

The same Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packers’ fame.

“And then,” adds Kellman, “there was Rico Petrocelli.

“When I was about five or six years old,” he said, “I saw how great Rico was.”

Kellman, now 69, graduated from Sheepshead Bay High School in 1970 – Petrocelli graduated in 1961.

“He was in Sheepshead’s first graduating class,” he said.

Petrocelli signed with the Boston Red Sox right out of high school, recalls Kellman. “There was no amateur draft back then,” he reminds us, “that started in 1965.”

Kellman even remembers the headline in the New York Post after Petrocelli’s signing: “Rico Right for the Red Sox.”

Wow, was that an understatement!

Petrocelli spent all of the 1965 season with Boston. Playing in 103 games, he made 93 starts at shortstop.

And in 1966, Rico Petrocelli returned to the “promised land,” the P.S. 206 schoolyard, for a visit.

But 1967 was the year Rico’s proud dad had a real problem, at least according to Kellman.

That was the “Impossible Dream” year. Petrocelli was selected to the All-Star Game; he was the starting shortstop for the American League team. He hit two home runs in the World Series – both in Game 6 off Dick Hughes of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Boston ultimately lost the series, four games to three.

But that still created a major problem for Rico’s dad – especially when he made visits to the P.S. 206 schoolyard.

Rico Petrocelli in 2009. Wikimedia photo by Little Ayun

“I remember Mr. P. got a standing ovation every time he walked through the schoolyard on his way to buying groceries,” Kellman said. 

Petrocelli – the ballplayer – set a record, since broken, for home runs by a shortstop with 40 in 1969. He had 97 RBIs and a career-high .297 average while playing 154 games.

He also played in his second All-Star game, starting at shortstop for the American League squad going one-for-three at the plate, with a double off Jerry Koosman.

Petrocelli led American League shortstops in fielding percentage in both 1968 and 1969, at .978 and .981 respectively.

He hit 29 home runs and had a career-high 103 RBIs in 1970.

In 1971, the Red Sox acquired shortstop Luis Aparicio, and Petrocelli moved to third base. He led American League third basemen in fielding percentage (.976), making only 11 errors in 463 total chances.

Third base wasn’t his comfort zone. In fact, during the 1975 season, Kellman had a chance to chat with Petrocelli at Shea Stadium during a Yankees’ series. The Yankees played their home games at Shea Stadium that season.

“When Rico was moved to third,” Kellman remembered, “he said he just didn’t feel the same.”

Yet, when Boston captured the American League East and faced the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series, Petrocelli started all three games at third base as the Sox swept the A’s.

In the 1975 World Series, which Boston lost to the Cincinnati Reds, Petrocelli hit .308 (8-for-26) with four RBIs, starting all seven games at third base.

Rico Petrocelli was inducted to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.

He tried his hand as a minor league manager after his playing days and also worked in broadcasting.

His legacy is being the “mayor” of the P.S. 206 schoolyard, says Kellman, who cites other notables like Hank Lam, a top collegiate basketball player at Staten Island College and Pace University; his brother Ken Lam, who played at NYU and later St. Francis College; and, of course, Lombardi.

“But none of those stars invited me to their home,” Kellman says. “Rico did in 1970.”

That was on East 22nd Street between Avenues V and W, says Kellman – he later moved to East 23rd between V and W.

Right near the hallowed ground.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national sports talk host. Previously, he was scholastic sports editor for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR

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  1. Joe Latwin

    Bowie Kellman was a pretty good ball player himself, mostly playing centerfield. He also had good basketball moves. I remember him honing his craft doing play by play into his tape recorder before he got to announce St. John’s basketball games. I lived on V and 22nd.