The pitcher lobs a teaser. DeMarco checks his swing. Another pitch. DeMarco, his face a study in determination, checks again.
On the next pitch, DeMarco lets fly. Whack! Bat hits ball, and ball soars, up, up, past the first floor of Bregy's back wall, past the second floor, white ball against brown brick, shimmying past the third floor, up and up. For a heartbreaking moment, it looks as if the ball is going to veer foul. But then - yes! - it clears the corner of the roof and there it is, a tiny white half-moon seemingly suspended against brilliant sky.
High fives all around, and DeMarco has the high flush of an 11-year-old who for one dizzying moment feels like a god.
Nothing, nothing feels quite like halfball.
Yup. Halfball, Philly street game supreme. And the word on the street is it's back.
``It's making such a huge comeback,'' said John Verderame, 45, founder of the modestly named World Halfball League with which Adrian DeMarco plays. Verderame, a.k.a.the Commissioner, is a driving force in the game's resurgence. Since Verderame, a Delaware County resident who grew up in South Philly, started his league five years ago, it has grown from four teams to seven and its members, including DeMarco, play every Thursday, May to September.
``It's a real renaissance,'' concurred Frank DeRosa, owner of Triple Play Sporting Goods in the Italian Market.
All around the city, there are signs of a rebirth, the numbers lending critical mass to those who never stopped playing the mythical game. Another halfball league that has played for years in Southwest Philadelphia now includes guys from Fishtown. Halfball has even developed a social conscience.
This year's Southwest champs will give half their prize money to Kosovo's refugees. Meanwhile in the Northeast, the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 87 is planning its second halfball tournament on June 26. Last year, said organizer Tom Clark, a city policeman, ``we had people stopping their cars. A couple people stood there a good hour.''
And like the old days, elders are teaching the young. Benjamin Guylan, a fifth grader from South Philly, is among the newly hooked.
``It's like baseball,'' Guylan explained, ``and you don't have to worry about breaking windows.''
Now, if you don't know halfball, don't feel stupid. You're just not from here. Take David Letterman, incredulous on national television the other week as Philadelphia native Bill Cosby explained this game played with half a rubber ball.
For generations, you could hardly go anywhere in town without seeing halfball. It trickled over to Camden. It was played in Boston's Charlestown, Dorchester and South Boston.
But ``Philly was the king,'' said Triple Play's DeRosa. ``We had halfball stadiums. Palumbo's parking lot was a halfball stadium.''
Back in the days, there were lots of street games, but halfball was in a class by itself, the glorious product of the minds of play-hungry children with little money but lots of imagination, adaptable to the architecture of a given neighborhood.
Inspired by baseball, you batted toward a wall. The first floor was a single, the second floor a double, the third a triple, and if you ``roofed it,'' you hit a homer. Kensington kids played against factories; elsewhere, schools and warehouses. If you had no wall, you played ``longways'' down a driveway.
You could play with just two guys or a whole team. You could be a little guy. In fact, you could be a star at other sports, but still stink up the joint at halfball if you couldn't master the unpredictable aerodynamics of that crazy cup of rubber. Halfball didn't require much equipment, either. Just a broom handle and, of course, a pimple ball.
Pimple balls were the lifeblood of halfball. White rubber balls with raised bumps or ``pimples,'' they were manufactured by the Eagle Rubber Co. of Ashland, Ohio, as Pebble Balls. Stores all over the city sold them, and they were cheap.
Halfball might have gone on forever if not for a corporate decision that forever altered the fragile urban ecology.
In the 1980s, Eagle Rubber, which had been bought up by Brown Group, was merged with the Hedstrom Corp. A decision based on limited sales and concern about product liability was made to stop making ``pimple balls,'' according to James Braeunig, Hedstrom vice president of operations.
``Part of the problem was you guys cut [the balls] in half,'' Braeunig explained.
That in turn released a chemical - ``a blowing agent'' - used to inflate the ball.
``The concerns about the blowing agent wound up to the point where the volume wasn't worth it'' financially, said Braeunig.
For a while, people harvested old pimple balls from rooftops. They tried other kinds of balls, but it just wasn't the same. Triple Play's DeRosa said that, for a while, he carried one entrepreneur's bat-and-halfball package, but people didn't like the balls.
The most successful has been Jim Collins, a Northeast copy machine salesman and caterer, who got Baltimore's Scully Rubber Co. to make pre-cut ``Haffies.'' He started selling them about 20 years ago. It was his then-9-year-old son's idea.
``I was cutting open a ball and he said, `Dad, you should make them like that.' And I said, `You know. You're right.' ''
Nowadays if people play halfball, it's usually with Collins' Haffies. It's a modest business, but word of mouth has brought orders from as far as Okinawa and Greenland.
What is the allure?
``It's such a crazy game,'' said Len Davidson, 52, who helped organize the Rowhouse Sports Olympics two years ago. ``I mean, playing with half a ball is so idiosyncratic. It's such a quirky Philadelphia thing. It's like hoagies and water ice.''
Norman Abrams, 41, who placed first in the halfball event, shares a lot of halfballers' concerns about the state of childhood today. Too much structured sport, too little spontaneity, he said.
``We think they're well-off, but there's no imagination,'' Abrams said. ``You turn on the TV and it runs your imagination for you. You see the headlines; they don't get to be children. That's what halfball is. It's innocence.''
Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University interested in sport, agrees that there is too much emphasis on organized sports. In fact, he said the rise of so-called extreme sports - rollerblading, skateboard, stunt biking - is in part a reaction against playing by others' rules.
And that, perhaps, is the lure of halfball: It is inextricably interwoven with childhood - that region of dreams and mist, sorrow and joy that belongs to each one of us alone.
As a little boy in Kensington, Bob Lambert, who now has an antiques business in Cape May, played halfball until his hands went sore. But his father died when he was 3 and, at 7, his mother sent him to live at Girard College. The only familiar thing was halfball, and he was good. Soon, he was invited to play. ``It meant you were accepted.''
He'd welcome halfball's return.
``I'll be happy,'' he said. ``I wish I was young again. I was wish I was still playing ball.''
* When Adrian DeMarco found that he wasn't the halfball hitter he used to be, he admits, he wasn't the easiest man to live with.
``I would say that's a diplomatic way of putting it,'' said his wife, Monica DeMarco.
So she agreed to help him practice. First, though, he had to explain the game. ``I had no idea what he was talking about,'' said Monica, who grew up in Millville, N.J., a no-halfball zone. He also had to explain it to their Washington Township, N.J., neighbors so he could retrieve the balls he lobbed into their yard.
DeMarco's old South Philadelphia High classmate John Verderame got him back into halfball. Verderame signed up others, too. Jersey guys who had never played before. Young guys, such as Steve Solipaca, 21, the league's home-run king. As a kid, he played baseball, but he fell head over heels for halfball.
Mark Snyder, 56, is the self-styled ``Methuselah of the league.'' Now, he and DeMarco also play their co-workers at Market Street Stationers. The other night - groan! - the other guys won.
``The only good thing is, my boss got two hits off me in the eighth inning,'' Snyder said. Meanwhile, Adrian DeMarco was racking up another hit.
``I think I'm better now than when I was a kid,'' DeMarco said. ``I concentrate more.''
Surely, things do change with time. More cares, less hair.
But on certain Thursday nights, DeMarco finds himself in the serendipitous situation of batting a ball against the wall of the same South Philly school he went to as a kid.
``My mother taught at that school, and here I am hitting the ball at her window,'' he said, grinning.
See, that guy they made you read in high school was wrong. You can go home again. And you can play halfball.