While growing up in my Southwest Philly neighborhood, back in the 1950s, I witnessed many events that would serve as wonderful memories as the years rolled by. Rowhome living provided some unique opportunities for what today’s child psychologists would refer to as “social interaction.” For instance, all we had to do is walk out of the house and there would be enough guys around to start a game
at St. Barney’s schoolyard. Whether it be touch football, basketball or one of the many varieties of baseball games, obtaining a “quorum” was never an issue. The guys on the block came in all shapes and sizes. Whether tall and skinny or short and stocky, everybody played and wanted to win.
One kid who stood out was a very Irish-looking fellow named Patty Reilly. Patty was a few years older than most of us. He lived directly across the street from us on Buist Avenue and right next door to my good buddy and future Vietnam veteran Franny Kehoe. Patty was a kid who loved the Philadelphia sports teams like the rest of us, but something else about him made him stand out. He was wheelchair bound. I never found out why or the nature of his physical disability but it didn’t much matter to us. He was one of the guys in the neighborhood and we treated him with respect and dignity.
Patty didn’t let the wheelchair define him. He was the typical kid who was no shrinking violet. He had some kind of terrier, probably a mutt, that was the color of a typical red Labrador. However, this pooch was not even part Lab. He had a face that resembled a pug and probably weighed 15 pounds or so. He was a friendly dog but the thing that set him apart from any of the other pets around was his name.
In the summer of 1954, the singing group The Chords released a song that would soar to the heights of the music charts and become the No. 1 best seller for nine consecutive weeks. The song was sometimes referred to as “Life can be a dream” but the real title, which Patty thought would also be a cool name for his pet, was “Sh-Boom.” With a name like that, there was no way that anyone, old or young, could fail to have a soft spot in their hearts when referring to Patty’s buddy.
It was surely a site to see Patty and Sh-Boom when they went for their daily “walks.” Patty had a two-wheeled bicycle with rear training wheels attached. His legs worked well enough to pedal but not walk. With the training wheels giving him the balance he needed, Patty would hold on to the leash and the handle bars and whirl around the block with Sh-Boom running to the side. Patty couldn’t go too fast on that bike but that was OK because Sh-Boom would never be mistaken for a greyhound! Patty also had a little trouble when stopping suddenly so it was general knowledge that when you heard the clanking of Patty’s old bike, you’d better be ready to take evasive action, if necessary. This demonstration of Patty’s moxie, in taking responsibility for his dog, was but one example of his desire to do the things others could do.
But one thing he did stands out in my mind as something rarely, if ever, accomplished by any kid in the neighborhood.
On a warm summer day we decided to play a game of “boxball.” We set up the playing field in the long common driveway in the rear of Patty and Franny’s homes. Boxball is a derivative of baseball whereby you set up the three bases and home plate in a square configuration with the pitcher’s mound in the middle. A pimple ball is used and the pitcher throws the ball, underhanded, on one bounce to the hitter. The hitter then smacks at the ball and the action begins! Of the eight of us playing, Patty was one of my teammates. Since he was in the chair, the only position he could play was pitcher. When it was his turn to bat, one of the other kids would run for him after he slapped the ball.
In the last inning and we were winning by one run. We had to get the final three outs to win the game. It was looking a little bleak as our opponents had runners on first and second base with no outs. It was time for “Patty’s miracle.”
As Patty released the ball, the batter smacked a line drive right back at Patty. Reflexively, he trapped the ball against his chest, grabbed it, threw it to our first baseman, who stepped on the base, who then threw the ball to me at second, and we had pulled off a triple play. Game over, we win. Patty was the hero by making that play. Everyone whooped and hollered. Patty raised his fist in victory and we all mobbed him. Jubilation abounded! As one who has played baseball at many levels, with games numbering in the many hundreds, I had never again participated in a triple play. Thanks for a great memory, Patty.