"Once I was allowed to cross Caton Avenue on my own, I could play baseball anytime I wanted, though not terribly well, on the sacred, scruffy sandlots of the Parade Grounds." —from Bobby in Naziland
The official name has always been Parade Ground, but nobody called it that. Today, these 40 acres of ball fields, unrecognizable to my eye, are partitioned with fences and covered with artificial turf. A sign over one of the entrances confirms the official name, so maybe modern-day Flatbushians call it Parade Ground.
Fifty-five years ago, when I lived a half block away, on East 17th Street, everybody called it the Parade Grounds, plural, and there were no signs indicating otherwise. To say "Parade Ground" doesn't sound right to me and never will.
It was a wide-open space and there was no artificial turf, either. Astroturf, as it was first called, didn't exist. The Parade Grounds were, as the above excerpt says, a collection of dusty, scruffy, unmanicured baseball fields. Blades of grass were few and far between. When you played ball there, especially in the summer, you'd return home covered in gritty red clay.
Come autumn, combination football goalposts and soccer goals appeared, and gridirons were marked off. Though somebody must have played soccer there, I never saw anyone do it and I didn't know anyone who did. The Parade Grounds were for baseball and football because that was the American Way.
And the grounds were sacred, especially if you were Jewish and loved baseball, as most of us were and did. The Parade Grounds were where Jewish, Brooklyn-born Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, of Lafayette High School, learned to throw his unhittable curve ball before joining the Brooklyn (soon-to-be LA) Dodgers.
In the above photo, taken in 1928 from a rooftop near Coney Island Avenue, the Parade Grounds look similar to the way they were in the 1950s and 1960s. The corner of Caton Avenue and Stratford Road is behind the trees on the upper right, and Parade Place, which turned into East 17th Street when you crossed Caton Avenue, is at the upper left.
The number of times I crossed Caton Avenue with either a baseball mitt or football tucked under my arm is incalculable.