Become a Fan
A Polo Grounds Prelude
By Ken Aven
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Rated "G" by the Author.
An old glove and an old ballpark leave fond memories for an eight year old at his first big league game.
June 23, 1963. A Mets doubleheader versus the Philadelphia Phillies. My very first Major League Baseball game. Nothing of real significance happened on the field that long ago Sunday afternoon. Well, the hometown team did take two! But in the narrative of my life, attending that game allowed me for better or worse to seem always a bit older that I was and gave me a little story to share with others.
For those keyed in on New York Mets and National League history, a home game in 1963 meant a game played at the ancient and almost ready to be torn down, Polo Grounds. The Mets were destined to play in the brand new Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens in 1964. But during construction of their new ballpark, the team had to play somewhere during the initial seasons of 1962 and 1963. That somewhere was the horseshoe shaped Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan and just across the river from Yankee Stadium.
Until 1957, the two New York NL teams played in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Dodgers were ensconced in their tidy little Ebbets Field while the Giants toiled away in the cavernous Polo Grounds. By the time the two clubs had moved on to California and the creation of the Mets was announced, only the Polo Grounds remained. Thus, the new baseball darlings were forced to play in the former home of the Giants.
By going to that one doubleheader in 1963, I had made a link with New York’s baseball past that I had nothing to do with. When the beloved Dodgers and the Willie Mays led Giants left the city, I was all of two years old. When the Mets hit the field in 1962, I was a perfect seven years old. That was just enough to have developed some baseball knowledge and curiosity and become a fan of the new team. However, almost all of the adult New York population, had grown up on the two now departed clubs. Sure the Mets had some good attendance their first two years in the Polo Grounds, but their real popularity soared when they moved to the brand new Shea.
Sitting in the Polo Grounds, even for that one June 1963 day, allowed me to sniff in the smells, hear the sounds, set my eyes on the sights, and intermingle with the ghosts of the departed Giants and the other denizens of the old ball yard.. The weird shaped Polo Grounds left an incredible impression upon its paying spectators. Both the left and right field foul poles were well under 300 feet away. Yet, the field dramatically curved and dead center was an unreachable 480 or so feet out from home plate.
In today’s modern stadiums, where oversized clubhouses with every amenity known to man sit just behind the dugouts, the Polo Grounds’ player locker rooms were out in that deep center field area. One could imagine Mel Ott or a young Babe Ruth (yes the Yankees played ten years in the ballpark before their owner stuck it in the face of the Giants and built Yankee Stadium in the Bronx just across the Harlem River) trudging out to the far off clubhouse in the twilight after a long game.
Of course, sitting in the Polo Grounds allowed me to claim that I had visited a baseball palace that once was ruled by the likes of John McGraw and Christy Matthewson. It was the sight of the most famous home run ever, the 1951 playoff smash by Bobby Thomson that put a dagger in the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere. It is also where in the 1954 World Series, the incomparable Mays made his famous over the shoulder catch against the Cleveland Indians.
So there I was, all of eight years old, sitting with my neighbors at the worn down but once proud stadium. But not only was I attending the game, but I had one of the best seats in the house. My friend's dad worked for some bank and had taken possession of the bank’s season box seats. The box was right up against the field, just a few feet north of first base. My friend and myself sat in the front row while his parents were right behind us.
Going to a game was a big deal in those days. Lunches were to be prepared, proper baseball attire was to be worn (i.e. a baseball jacket or insignia shirt and a Mets cap), and for younger folk - a baseball glove. In the 1960’s, a doubleheader on a Sunday or a holiday was to be expected. Games moved a bit faster in those days but still two two and a half hour games and a twenty or so minute break between them meant that fans could stay over five hours at the ballpark.
So all was going smoothly. I had found that hanging out at a baseball game was just a great way to enjoy a sunny day. You could scream and go hoarse over your favorite players, you could eat a lot of food that you might not otherwise chow down on a normal afternoon, you could follow all the happenings in baseball by glancing over at the ever changing out of town scoreboard, and as I would learn a little later in life, you could forget about your problems for a few hours and immerse yourself in the action taking place right before your own very eyes.
That feeling of contentment might be one of the draws that brings so many back game after game to ballparks all across our nation. However, my little bubble of happiness was challenged, when sometime during one of the two games, I got just a bit careless, and let my fielder’s glove slip off my hand and fall onto the playing field. As soon as the glove slipped off, I quickly noticed that with the bar in front of me and the slight height of the field level seats, I could not reach down by myself and retrieve it.
Perhaps five or so minutes went by as panic began to strike me. I had heard an announcement that anyone throwing something onto the field would be ejected from the game. Was my glove included in that announcement? What if a pop fly drifted into the foul territory just behind first base and the player tripped over my glove? Would I be blamed? Would I be escorted out of the Polo Grounds?
Finally, I got up the courage to tell my friend that my glove was on the field. He quickly told his dad who calmly waited until the inning ended. He then told an usher who opened up a small gate, hopped onto the field, scooped the glove up and gave it back to me. The usher was all smiles sensing that an innocent kid had parted with his prize possession.
Of course looking back upon the incident, my friend’s dad and the usher saw everything in the proper perspective. But eight year old boys at their first big league game have not developed such a wide view on things. That glove, laying in the dust of the Polo Grounds, was a violation of the rules and one that would cause a troubling feeling for any kid.
What a great experience that day was in the Polo Grounds. I got to be a part of baseball history by sitting in a cathedral that had witnessed so much. I got to watch two games for the price of one. And my own baseball glove and indeed my own heart had touched the essence of a game.
Site: Growing Up Shea
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|Reviewed by Michael Eads
|I have never been there but after reading this story I feel like I have…good job.|
|Reviewed by John Domino
|I remember polo grounds - GOOD tymes!
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Fine nostalgic memories in this wonderful story, Ken! I loved it!! You've hit a grand slam with this one! Very well done!
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D
My big brother is named Ken; call him Kenny.... :)