Big Cherokee – One Hell Of A Stickball Player
I had been away from stickball for about forty years when I learned it was not dead and was actively being played in a number of Cities. After some time, I managed to get in touch with some of the old time stickball players from the South Bronx who were living in the Miami area. From them I found out who was still around. One name that come up was Big Cherokee (George Aviles). He is in his early 80’s and was still playing stickball up to a couple of years ago in the Old-Timer games . He caries a Stickball bat in his car and can still hit today. If it were someone else, I would be surprised that an 80 year old could still hit, but not with Cherokee. In the early 1950’s Cherokee moved to Miami and was playing in a band. During the summer he would come up to the South Bronx and play good stickball as if he had been playing all season. He had a smooth level swing, hit the ball consistently and was a good fielder. When I heard his name, my mind went back to 1956 at PS51when he beat us in a game with two key hits playing his first game of the season .
In 1956, the Harlem Devils who played Hitting-on-a-Pitch stickball were having a hard time getting games since they were so good. They decided to play Hitting-By-Yourself also, and came up to PS51 to play the Tigers. They used Tito, Papi and Cherokee from the Jackson Knights. Cherokee lined two ball in the left corner of the school yard that our guy inside the fence couldn’t get to and the outfielder in the street couldn’t get through the fence. I was the outfielder in the street and watched both balls fall in for hits. Hitting balls in that corner of the school yard was a good job of place hitting, but for a guy who had just come up from Miami, this was really outstanding. We knew he could hit, but with Tito, Papi, Push-Push and Lilo, we were surprised he was the one who beat us. This is why I am not surprised he can still hit today in his early 80’s.
We should have won the game, but we let it slip away. The thing that really pissed us off was that the Devils could come up to our field and beat us in our game of Hitting-By-Yourself. The next week we went down to 115th Street to play them and it was a great game. The lead changed sides a few times and we were ahead in the eighth inning when the game broke up.