It was a rite of spring in the Queens neighborhood where I grew up—and in every other NYC neighborhood, I suspect: The annual trip to the corner store to get a pink Spalding (often pronounced "Spaldeen") Hi-Bounce rubber ball.
In this ritual, you didn't just pick up a ball and pay for it; you had to test them first. Trying several, we'd bounce them on the wood floor of the store to see which one bounced the highest. Some of us tested them by dropping two of them at the same time from the same height. The judging criteria was always the same: highest is best. Once that was determined, we'd plunk down our 25¢, and spring would begin.
I still think think about this, maybe even every year, although it's been a very long time since I ventured out to buy myself a pink rubber ball. I went looking for one today though. My older grandson is four, and I am itching to play catch with him. The way I see it, he will reap the rewards of all the ball games I played as a kid. I hope he'll see it that way too. Thanks mostly to my dad, I love having a ball in my hands.
Because of age and the damage done to my shoulder from pulling a lawnmower cord, I can no longer attempt the perfect football spirals of my youth, or indeed any overhand pitch, but I can lob a gentle underhand to a 4-year-old. And I can still pluck balls out of the air a fair percentage of the time.
My shopping expedition was limited to Walmart and Dollartree this morning, and there was not a Spalding to be found. Walmart had a couple of glitzy looking supercharged balls, infused with helium in some fashion, guaranteed to travel farther by kick and higher by bounce, confirming that "simple and basic" just doesn't appeal to the masses anymore. Or at least the marketing geniuses don't think so.
Dollartree had a Spalding wannabe called Pinky Hi-Bounce. I bought one for a dollar, but it doesn't have the same feel. And it doesn't have the same smell. We always sniffed our brand-new Spaldings. It was the only time they would have their distinctive smell—no surprise when you consider how often we bounced them on the city sidewalks, gutters, and vacant lots.
When I got home I looked online and found that Amazon sells the Spaldings for $6.20 apiece. One of the commenters said they cost 25¢ back when he was a kid in his NYC neighborhood. Someone else said they're available in sporting goods and toy stores for a lot less than Amazon's price. I see a trip to Dick's and Toys R Us in my future.