Years ago, there were a number of players that hit the ball hard, but there were three players that hit the ball just a little harder than the rest. They were Lilo of the Young Devils, Biggie of the Tigers and Vinnie Head of Mott Street. These three guys battered fourth for their teams and hit the ball hard consistently. Stickball players years ago could place the ball wherever they wanted on the field. Even if you knew where these guys were going to hit the ball, it was still difficult to get them out since they hit so damn hard. Also, outfielders had to play these guys deep and that opened big gaps between the fielders. These guys were tough outs. In the following stories, I will describe some of the balls they hit and the fields they hit them on. Lets start with Lilo.
Lilo (Hector Pacheco) played mostly for the Young Devils at 115th Street and Madison Avenue. In the South Bronx we knew them as the Harlem Devils. I saw him hit many times, but there is one ball I will never forget. It was Easter Sunday of 1954 and the Harlem Devils were playing the Jackson Knights at PS 51. Lilo hit a line drive that was never more than about a foot off the ground that went through the infield just to the left of second base, through the schoolyard, across 158th Street and hit the building wall. The infielders hardly moved and the outfielders didn’t come close to it. The ball was going up and down from a few inches off the ground to about a foot. It also was going side to side. What a shot!
PS 51 schoolyard was on Jackson Avenue with 158th Street running across the outfield. Home plate was a little more that two thirds the distance to 160th Street. PS 51 schoolyard is no longer there, but you can still get an idea of what that line drive was like. If you are in the area, go on Jackson Avenue to where home plate was and look at the five story building on 158th Street. Imagine a line drive no higher than a foot off the ground hitting the building wall.
The guys at PS 51 knew the Harlem Devils well, some of them would come to the schoolyard on Saturdays since there was too many cars on 115th Street. I was an outfielder, but I also pitched. If Lilo was in the schoolyard, I hated to pitch to him he hit the ball so hard up the middle. The bases in PS 51 were very short and the pitcher stood between first and third base. Lilo swung slightly down on the ball and if he lined the ball back at you, the best you could hope for was to get a hand on it and you probably couldn’t. He hit some rockets by me. During practice I never attempted to field a line drive he hit. I kept my hands up by my face and played it not to get lined out. I was a little afraid of him at so close a distance.
In Streetplay.com, under “Photo Galleries” there are pictures of the Young Devils. Lilo is in the group picture with a guy in the center wearing a baseball cap. Lilo is in the back row, three in from the right. Any time I saw Lilo, he was wearing eyeglasses. He probably took them off for the photo.
I don’t think any of the players in that picture are still around. I may be one of the few old time stickball players that still remembers them, so let me say a few things for history’s sake. In the picture, I believe the first guy on the left in the front row is Willie Cubano, the guy in the baseball cap is Alfredo Rojas. Willie batted first and Alfredo second. These guys were like hitting machines. Push-Push (Papo), who was the best hitter I have seen, batted third and Lilo fourth. All eight of the Devils could hit. But, they weren’t the only team like that. The Jackson Knights from PS 51 could match them in hitting. Also, there were other teams in Harlem and around 66th Street on the west side just as good.