How My Middling Zeal for Sports Helped Me Survive the 'Mean Streets' of Mahopac

If I won, I won. If I lost, I lost.

By Jeff Pearlman

For the past two or three decades, I have jokingly referred to my hometown of Mahopac, N.Y. as “the mean streets.”

When I tell people where I’m from, it’s “The mean streets of Mahopac.” When I joke with friends about, oh, ol’ Rodak’s Deli or Carmelo’s Barbershop, it’s, “You know—downtown in the mean streets.”

It has gotten to the point that, when I appear on radio and TV to promote a new book, I am occasionally introduced by hosts as, “Jeff Pearlman—New York Times best-selling author and survivor of the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y. …”

Which I always love.

Truth be told, however, there was nothing (besides an occasional school bus smackdown) mean about Mahopac. It was warm and glowing and tranquil and peaceful. Games of night tag up and down Emerald Lane. Bike rides into town. Deep jaunts into the woods behind my house.

And, of course, the youth sports.

As I write this, my son Emmett, age 14, is officially retired from youth sports. Part of that is due to COVID, but a bigger portion can be attributed to the unforgivable irrationality of parents and coaches out here in Southern California. It is, to be blunt, a madhouse. Moms screaming at umpires, dads bemoaning playing time, a volunteer little league manager refusing to position his worst player anywhere but the prison that is right field. It’s all too much; a poisonous landscape of asininity that burns children out by their pre-teens and makes certain kids (like, oh, Emmett) swear off ever touching a bat or ball again.

Mahopac wasn’t like that.

Or, at the bare minimum, my Mahopac wasn’t like that.

Growing up, I played Little League baseball, youth basketball and youth soccer under the auspices of the Mahopac Sports Association. Never (and I mean … never) did our teams practice more than once per week. Never did a coach relegate me to strictly one position. Never did I hear a father demand his son (or daughter) receive more playing time. Yes, it was a simpler time. But it was also a simple (in the best of ways) town. We longed to be Don Mattingly and Dwight Gooden—but we were hardly pushed to be Don Mattingly and Dwight Gooden.

Best of all, my parents—Joan and Stan Pearlman—never, ever, ever … cared. At all.

If I won, I won. If I lost, I lost. If I got a hit, that was great. If I struck out four times (more the norm) I struck out four times. Generally, mom and dad positioned themselves somewhere on the grass along a baseline, book or newspaper in hand. When it was my turn to hit, or shoot, or … whatever, they’d pay attention. Otherwise, eh. Who cared? It was just youth sports.

I actually have a vivid memory that still makes me smile.

It was 1984. I was 12 and playing left field for Bill Bloomer Painting in our league’s World Series. An opposing player hit a deep fly ball toward where I was standing (In my mind it traveled 350 feet. In reality, it was probably a 70-foot blooper). I drifted back. In. Out. Left. Right. Lifted my glove. Caught it. The woman sitting alongside my mother hugged her and said, “That was an amazing catch! Jeff made an amazing catch!”

My mom, nose likely buried in the day’s Reporter Dispatch, looked up.

“Wait,” she said, “did something happen?”

Amen.

Jeff Pearlman is the New York Times best-selling author of nine books, host of the Two Writers Slinging Yang podcast and a survivor of Mahopac's mean streets.