Dogball at Rockaway Beach

Ratchet back in time to the summer of 1938 and be in Rockaway Beach at the corner of 110th Street and the Boardwalk. It is late afternoon and most of the serious sunbathers were lugging their beach umbrellas, blankets and ice chests across the still-hot sand to get back to their summer bungalow on one of the side streets that dead-ended along the many miles of the Boardwalk at the ocean front.

Me at age 16, Rockaway Beach, 1941

Me at age 16, Rockaway Beach, 1941

About 6:00 PM even before the Beach was empty, the ball players were arriving. They are equipped with softball bats and a hard solid rubber ball, the kind Woolworth’s 5&10 sold to dog owners to use to play “fetch.” As the Beach emptied, the four bases and pitcher’s mound were put in place at regulation softball game distances. They were simply small pillow cases filled with sand.

Choosing up sides was quickly accomplished since the game was an every-night affair and who played where was an automatic. Since some of the players had been turning out for the game for as many years as their family had been vacationing at the beach, in some cases for thirty years or more. After the regulars had filled all the positions on both teams, there were occasionaly vacancies that had to be filled. Onlooker-fans were always hanging around hoping to get to play ball that evening.

John Donahue, a ruddy-faced Irishman father of five girls and long-time Rockaway vacationer staying at a small bungalow in Mae Court at 109th Street and his summertime neighbor, Eddie McGowan, who lived next door were usually the first to be called since they had been playing dogball for at least 30 years. Now about 70 years old, they began competing on ball fields in a baseball league for teenagers sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Since they could no longer run to first base in the sand after batting, that led to the creation of some local rules. For one, those players who could still swing a bat but were no longer able to run in the sand could call upon any onlooker to be a one-time substitute runner. This was a slow-pitch game and balls and strikes were not called. A batter could choose his pitch and was allowed one strike or two foul balls and he was out.

Playing the sandy infield was a real challenge to the players’ fielding ability. A hot ground ball would take an erratic hop or two and die while a slow-moving base runner made his way. On the nights when the tide was high, the left and center fielders would have to back up to the shoreline. Those dogballs flew when the batter really connected with his softball bat. The game would continue until the street lights on the boardwalk went on. Then they’d finish the inning.

More to come as Robert Moses takes time out from his many duties to see that his park police arrested all of the players and brought them to night court. The judge was sympathetic, feeling that no real crime had been committed. However, the die was cast and every night Mr. Moses henchmen in the person of the Park Police regularly toured the beach and hassled the ballplayers. No ball playing on the beach. Since no one wanted to get arrested for playing ball, the game was over… and John Donahue and Eddie McGowan retired to Fitzgerald’s bar on 108th Street. The lights were on and the game was over.

24 thoughts on “Dogball at Rockaway Beach

  1. Kathy Baumann

    Hey I think that this is a great idea. Maybe my mom could add a story from her perspective. Perhaps the story about her mother and the viola!
    Thanks for sharing and getting into the blog!

  2. Marty McManus

    My parents and grandmother each had a romming house on Beach 114 st,in Rockaway Beach from 1925 until 1973.Each night in the 1950’s our block would play dogball on the beach.I remember going to 110 St. and seeing the older guys playing dogball around the same time.At least once a summer Beach 114 st . would challange Beach 115 st in a game of dogball.To say growing up as a kid in the 50’s in Rockaway Beach was paradise is a TOTAL understatement. I live in Belle Harbor now and occasionally walk on the beach to 114ST. and in my mind’s eye remember it like it was back in the 50’s.I try and explain the great times to my kids who are now groun up but I know they just can’t appreciate what it was like.

  3. Rand HOPPE

    I have to apologize to Kathy and Marty. Only recently after upgrading the blog’s WordPress software did I go through the comments to find and approve their entries.

    Dad really enjoyed your comment, Marty, if you’re out there. Hopefully Dad’ll pop up here soon to comment as well.

  4. Will HOPPE Post author

    Hi Marty,

    Thanks for your note commenting on my article about the glory days of
    Rockaway Beach vacations enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
    What a special time and place it was for so many years.

  5. Brian J.McManus

    I am Marty McManus’ younger brother. Your article is fantastic! Growing up in the fifties, on Beach 114th street, was a childhood dream. Just an
    example; I was six years old and my Mother would let me walk up to the boardwalk and travel, alone, to St. John’s Home, and watch “The Concert”
    held in Summer on Wednesday’s. The time, 8:00 pm sharp. At exactly
    9:00 pm, the fireworks display could be seen directly over the ocean.
    St. John’s Home was on Beach 111th street, just a stones throw from your picture Will. Summers in that surrounding area were amazing! A millionaire couldn’t have had more fun!

  6. Bernie Taub

    I grew up on Beach 113 Street for many a summer and lived behind Marty Mc Manus’ house. I knew all his brothers and think one of them bought a house from a friend of mine Stuey Schwartz. I can also say they were great summers.

  7. Brian McManus

    Rand, I wrote a story about Bernie (Taub) and never remembered his
    last name. I can’t beleive he wrote that comment. Please send me
    your email and I will send you that article. It’s amazing how I was thinking of Rockaway tonight and wanted to read your story again.
    Such brilliant days!
    (hopefully, you’ll see why I think Bernie might enjoy reading it as well.)

  8. tom mcmanus

    another McManus brother – both of my bros bring back the best of the best- my recollection of the 50’S and the rooming house we lived in was the smells- I used to sweep my grandmothers house each day ( 4 stories and her bungalow) and scrub the toilets on each floor- the smells included the disenfectant that was added- some minty type coupled with the daily breakfast ritual going on behind closed doors- the smell of bacon and eggs. Its interesting to think of all that bacon consumed and how bad supposedly it was for you but i think it still is the best smell- in combination with sun tan lotion that seemed to be everywhere in the house- coopertone had the best smell but the best lotion was simply baby oil and iodine – spf of zero. Even though everyone had a door on their room there was ultimately no privacy- we all knew what was going on with each family, but what fun that was.
    my other memory was the boardwalk and the railings- the “older’ guys and girls would be doing their mating ritual right in front of us and of course as younger kids we would try to imitate. Many a night you could see the summer love affairs develope only to realize how hard it would be come Labor Day when it would end.
    Rockaway in the 50’s was undoubtedly the best years in all our lives- sad to say it will never ever be replicated.

  9. Glenda Hoppe

    Dad – I love the term dogball! It makes it clear the game is distinctly different from softball or baseball. I hear it with a heavy NY accent – dawgbawl…

    Brian – I so enjoyed reading your article. I think I smelled bacon before I was through.

  10. Meg Barrett (nee Burke)

    It is the Labor Day weekend and I find myself trying to describe to my Tarheel tribe of 5 sons how the summer ended at Rockaway Beach,NY–the Irish Rivera. I grew up each summer at 171 Beach 114th St.-Nick and Anna Ambrosio’s Beach House. He was Italian and she was his German “war bride”. Anna kept the house immaculate -whitewashed picket fence around the perimeter with what it seemed like hundreds of red geraniums. The colors and smells of the closing weekend at Rockaway Beach are embedded in my mind. The beach houses all decorated with strings of lights and lanterns and smells of charcoal fires and coolers full of Hoffman sodas for the kids and Ballantine and Schaeffer beer for the adults. Oh what great memories. If only enjoyment and good times could be that simple again.

  11. Jackie Comer

    Hello Rockaway Folks,
    Thankfully my fellow Rockawayite friend Tommy Archer sent me an e-mail letting me in on Brian’s article and this blog. As usual, it’s pure pleasure “going back” thinking about all the really great times we had in Rockaway. When my wife told me she got to go away to camp for two weeks in the summer, and I replied “well I didn’t get to go away to camp” she smacked me! She said “YOU LIVED AT THE BEST CAMP…FOR THE WHOLE SUMMER!!”
    She’s right. I lived at 155 Beach 113th, half way down the beach block right next door to Taub’s rooming house. (A quick story about that. Tommy and I once saw an ad for their house beckoning renters to “Taub’s Ocean Villa by the Sea.” We cracked up because we “knew” their house and it just didn’t quite fit our picture of a Villa. But you know what, to the kids who got to come to our beaches in the summer, it probably totally fit their idea of a dream villa).
    Likewise, lots of memories of the Taubs, starting early in the morning. Pretty much daily we could clearly hear Mrs. Taub calling Bernie for his breakfast…in that same heavy accent Glenda spoke of, “Bouynee Bouynee…come for yur eggie!” Apparently we all got our eggs and bacon, and strangely we have all apparently lived to tell about it, still without a heart attack. (Must be all that great ocean air we breathed all those years).
    Personally to this day I have a very distinct play memory of my friend Seymore. We all played sewer to sewer stick ball on our street and unfortunately when Seymore came up for bat I was mistakenly within Seymore’s swinging pattern and his broomhandle bat connected with my forehead (my bad) and so I sport a short scar line above my left eyebrow…proudly. Least you think this would diminish my desire to “play on”, not a chance. These games were our passion and we couldn’t play them enough! (How fun to read we followed a long long legacy of ballplayers in Rockaway).
    The week before Memorial Day 113th through 115th and all the bungalows to the east were vacant but that weekend Rockaway was magically transformed into Endless Play Heaven. As a year round resident the summers were our dream. Boardwalk to shoreline solid people and a gahzillion kids to play with. (Undoubtedly every Irish surname represented). My wife asks “do you know this person, that person, those people?” Not for nothing but that would mean I’d have to recall hundreds of kids and their families because that’s the pool of playmates I’d have to navigate each day just figuring out our posse of the day. (We’d have to spend another good hour of daylight deciding what we’d call our gang for the day. It was tough work organizing all that fun). I told my wife “if I saw these people faces I would probably recognize them” because we’d all regularly see each other here and there in our neighborhood.
    Obviously we all share lots of the same fond memories of our Rockaway in the 50’s. Aren’t we lucky and aren’t we frustrated trying to fully explain to “youngins” just how fun-rich our lives were there? Twas devine, we had something very very special.

  12. tom archer

    I remember Bernie one summer when the lifeguards had to go retrieve his self from the atlantic ocean…unusual as this was usually reserved for the day trippers…:) also when they closed up for the summer the stoop of the taubs became the best local for stoop ball on the block.

  13. Dan Healy

    We lived on 109th & the Blvd. across trhe street for Norm Ochs Deli.
    Johnny McGuire would organize a group of us kids, ages 8yrs. to 10yrs.
    and set up a dogball game at his favorite spot on the beach , where the
    upper boardwalk met the lower boardwalk met to form the perfect dogball
    beach stadium! These memorable games of the 1940’s under Johonny’s tutledge took place in the early afternoon because of WW II beach restrictions.
    We were certainly blessed to live and play in such a wonderful community.

  14. Rand HOPPE

    We had a family wedding this past weekend, which my dad attended. I read him some of your recent posts. He just loves hearing from you all.

  15. Rand HOPPE

    Oh, and hopefully he and I will be able to collaborate on a new entry focusing on how his father became dubbed “Gus O’Hoppe” :^)

  16. Dean Georges

    Unbelieveable coincidence… With several other Rockaway natives (still living here)
    we embarked on a project to “reconstruct” Rockaway’s Irish Town. I’m really not
    a “techie”… but I’m learning about the Internet, and what power it has.
    I was born, schooled, married, and lived (in order) 98th, 101st, 99th, 115th, 127th,
    149th and for the last 21 years, on 130th Street. In working on this “Irish Town”
    project, I have come in contact with Tom Archer (schoolmate & teammate of my
    brother @FRHS)…… and all the McManus boys… and I remember Jackie Comer..
    and just today, the project has been completed and posted to the “Rockaway Memories” website. I invite all of you, who have contributed YOUR memories to be prepared to spend serious time, reflecting on how lucky we were to actually have played a role in the real memories of Rockaway.

  17. Claire Kranz

    I remember being an O’Hoppe. We lived on 109th Street and later at 107th street. as the only non-Irish we were given the name O’Hoppe. I have very fond memories of Rockaway in the summer especially the fireworks on Wednesday night and going to the park on 109th street and the boardwalk. I also watched the dogball games. They were wonderful summers. My mother always said “Once you get the sand in your shoes you never get it out” I still love the beach.

  18. Keith Jones

    My Grandfather, Robert “Tex” Tynes (Commo Chief) was with your outfit. He’s alive and well in Huntsville, AL. If anyone needs to get in touch with him, email me!

  19. Victoria Ambrusio

    Meg Barrett, As my sister was doing some research on our grandmother’s ancestery she just happened to come across your wonderful post. Nick and Anne Ambrusio are my grandparents and I know when my father gets the chance to see your comment he will be absolutely thrilled. To know my grandparents are remembered with such fondness is truly heartwarming. We lost my grandmother many years ago due to cancer so thank you for your kind words, I know my father will be truly touched. I hope you see this.


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