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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Another Helping of Kool-Aid in Riverdale

One of my favorite Faith and Fear comments of 2007 included this line directed at me by the ever-popular Anonymous in disagreement with my insistence that the Mets retire 24 in honor Willie Mays’ achievements as a New York National League legend:

Stop drinking the cool aid [sic] with those old guys up in Riverdale.

I found that amusing since it was a callback to earlier posts about my involvement with the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, the current highfalutin name for the Giants Fan Club, a group that, whatever it’s titled this week, is the closest thing to a game at the Polo Grounds I’m ever going to find. Thursday night we were once again called to order, or at least to dinner. And once again, the Long Island chapter — me and my buddy Rich — made our periodic schlep to Riverdale for another helping of pasta, baseball and Kool-Aid, not necessarily in that order.

The Kool-Aid is self-serve because the conversion process that made me a retroactive New York Giants fan took place long before I met the guys, though they certainly add a dimension to what had been a static, book-learned devotion to New York’s original National League stalwart. There is, I’ll confess, a certain cultishness in the air at Josepina on Johnson Avenue when we get together. Lots of reinforced learning. I always overhear variations on several Jintcentric themes:

• The New York Mets derive as much of if not more of their lineage from the New York Giants than from the Brooklyn Dodgers.

• No rivalry, no matter how hyped, measures up to that which burned between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

• “Once a Giants fan, always a Giants fan.”

I continually and enthusiastically refill the Kool-Aid pitcher where the first two points are concerned; the orange NY says it all on the first bullet. The last one strikes me as a rationalization by the NY Giants fans who became SF Giants fans, but if that’s what put a big Kool-Aid smile on their face for the past fifty years, well, rationalize away — you’ve earned it.

(One could say the same for the most famous NY Giants fan alive of his new position, even if he is now managing, in the reverse spirit of Leo Durocher, the LA Dodgers.)

These gatherings are incredibly nonjudgmental. It’s not just Giants fans of the past, present and theoretical/Met variety who show up. I’ve met Cubs fans, Phillies fans…even Dodger fans have been welcomed, if warily. Everybody brings something to the table, sometimes literally. Last night, Sid Gordon‘s son joined those who probably wished they had been Sid Gordon’s son. He brought his father’s scrapbook of clippings and scorecards, passed around gingerly and eyed lovingly.

Where else is this gonna happen?

Such eye candy, including the Giants-related newspaper stories our leader Bill Kent copies and distributes like Eddie Stanky sliding into second (“DID EVERBODY GET THE WES WESTRUM ARTICLE?”), is a bonus. I mostly come for the buzz. I love listening in on the old stories and the new spins. Rich is great at tapping the reservoir of baseball memories in the room. Granted, it doesn’t take much more than “you saw the Giants at the Polo Grounds?” but it’s something I’m a little shy about asking. When the talk turns to the baseball of today, I’ll chime in, but otherwise I don’t want to get in the way of what I’m hearing.

Last night, though, I was more taken by something I saw than something I heard. A gentleman whose name I didn’t catch did see the Giants at the Polo Grounds on a rather memorable day: September 29, 1957. It was the final Giants home game under Coogan’s Bluff and this fellow thought to bring a Super 8 movie camera. He got a seat behind first base and filmed everything. Then, a half-century or so later, he transferred it to DVD. He brought a portable DVD player last night and showed us his home movie.

Wow. There it was in all its glory: New York Giants baseball, alive. It was the Polo Grounds the way I’d always tried to imagine it but have never quite succeeded. I’ve watched documentaries, I’ve stared at photographs, I’ve ogled paintings, I’ve made a pilgrimage to the housing project that stands in its place, I’ve read and read and read. But this man’s movie brought it out in living color. There used to be a ballpark there, indeed. This big green edifice with a diamond and bases and seats and players and fans as it existed for decades, as it would cease to exist later that Sunday afternoon. There was Bobby Thomson pointing toward left field for old times’ sake. There was 26-year-old Willie Mays, pudgier than I would have guessed, signing autographs for kids. There were 1957 Giants and Giants from the past lining up to say goodbye. If you didn’t know any better, you’d figure the Polo Grounds was still there, that baseball had never left Manhattan, that next spring it will open up again.

Did I mention wow?

The postscript to my Giants jottings is always they left and the Mets came along and we lived happily ever after. True that, but seeing the Polo Grounds in all its Land of the Giants splendor…for a few seconds it wasn’t nostalgia. It was almost real.

30 comments to Another Helping of Kool-Aid in Riverdale

  • Anonymous

    ” the Mets retire 24 in honor Willie Mays…. Stop drinking the cool aid [sic] with those old guys up in RIVERDALE ”
    Hi Greg,
    Did you know that when he played for the New York Giants, Willie Mays actually lived in Riverdale?

  • Anonymous

    Torre was a Giants fan living in Brooklyn? One more reason we never should have trusted him.

  • Anonymous

    We want video. Now!

  • Anonymous

    I actually did know that. Not sure if he still has it, but Willie held on to an apartment up there for many years after his departure from the Mets. I know somebody who lived in the same building in the early '90s (not a baseball fan, alas).

  • Anonymous

    If the gentleman who has the video ever makes copies available (as he was requested to do by several viewers), I will post information. Last night he was having a hard enough time firing up his machine.

  • Anonymous

    On behalf of my late father, I forgive you.

  • Anonymous

    I still get a kick out of driving the perimeter of the site. Especially passing the famous outcropping of rock on the eastern end pictured in so many pre Polo Grounds IV photos up above home plate.

  • Anonymous

    Woody Allen was another NY Giants fan who grew up in Brooklyn. Make of that what you will.
    Besides Torre and Allen, other famous, living NYG fans of yore include George Carlin and Fran Healy. There are presumably others.

  • Anonymous

    Healy's father was a backup catcher in for the Giants in the early 30s. When Fran was doing Mets casts he would occasionally mention this and that his father would bring him to the Polo Grounds as a child where he had access to the dugout and clubhouse. A bit player had access to the dugout and clubhouse 20 years later. Think about that.
    Carlin grew up in “Irish Harlem” – Morningside.

  • Anonymous

    One of the volumes of HBO's 3 part “When It Was A Game” has a fair bit of footage of Mets at the Polo Grounds.
    Also some Giants spring training during WWII in a place that looks like New Jersey under the tutelage of the great yet affable player-manager No. 4, Mel Ott, who was never the manager that he was a player.

  • Anonymous

    Greg, is this the same group we went to lunch with, when Bobby Thomson was there and signed my copy of “The Giants of the Polo Grounds”? Our future selves? I can't believe anyone would make fun of tthem. >:-(
    You did wear your jacket, didn't you?

  • Anonymous

    Former President of Madison Square Garden Bob Gutkowski is frequently seen sporting his New York Giants cap.

  • Anonymous

    Different group. Like rival factions of the same gang. (Probably some overlap, however.)
    Jacket was worn with pride.

  • Anonymous

    That's what the DVD reminded me of, which is high praise indeed…but his footage was cleaner and more lifelike, which is why it seemed so real.

  • Anonymous

    I know one of Bob's kids. He's gone over to the dark side.

  • Anonymous

    I'd really like to see it.

  • Anonymous

    It was your basic home-movie of the last Giants game at the Polo Grounds. It reminded me of those HBO documentaries filmed in living color back in the day…

  • Anonymous

    The senior Gutkowski was running MSG, including the network, when they signed the Dark Side to what was then an astounding cable deal. Maybe the son got corrupted by the family business.

  • Anonymous

    Greg -
    Have you seen “Summer of 1957″ ?
    Available here:
    http://www.raresportsfilms.com/summer1957.html
    Includes among other newsreels – Giants spring training in Phoenix, Drysdale getting beat at Polo Grounds, last game at Polo Grounds including the fans with their “Stay Team Stay” banner rushing the centerfield clubhouse.
    It's black and white, not cheap but worth the investment

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the tip, Howard. Look tempting.

  • Anonymous

    SCENE: Interior, Irving Trust, 1 Wall Street, NYC, circa anytime between 1952 and 1963.
    SFX: phone ringing
    Pop Hangley (my grandfather): “Do you think you could sneak uptown and meet me at the Polo Grounds this afternoon?”
    Skip Hangley (my Dad): “I'll get the tickets.”

  • Anonymous

    Great scene, though presumably between 1958 and 1961, they had lots of time to get uptown.

  • Anonymous

    True. They might have going to see midget racing or the bloodless gladiators…

  • Anonymous

    Anything to kill time between 9/29/57 and 4/13/62…

  • Anonymous

    I assume he was just being adorable, but the most famous NY Giants fan alive (Bob Gutkowski notwithstanding) renounced his childhood allegiance to ingratiate himself with his new people:
    “Being from Brooklyn, I'd better get this out,” Torre said in his opening remarks. “We had the Dodgers, the Giants and the Yankees. We were pretty spoiled in the East. I managed the Yankees and now I get to manage the Dodgers and I was a Giants fan. I want to apologize for that right now.”
    So much for “his standing as an avuncular civic treasure, the unofficial pope of New York,” as Wayne Coffey of the Daily News saw fit to overlabel him yesterday.

  • Anonymous

    The Titans (Jets) began in autumn 1960. The only years without team sports at Polo Grounds were 1958 and 1959. Football Giants left Polo Grounds around '54.

  • Anonymous

    First game at YS for football Giants: October 21, 1956.
    Have some info on other stuff that filled PG between baseball and baseball. Will post it sometime soon.

  • Anonymous

    There was boxing too.

  • Anonymous

    My name is Matt. Matt Gutkowski. And rest assured, I am a New York Met fan, die hard. I happen to own a Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers hat, because both are important part of Mets history. Who are you, anyway?

  • Anonymous

    Matt -
    I was referring to your older brother. You must know he's a yankee fan. You and I met briefly last year at the bar he works in my lower Manhattan neighborhood. You are indeed a die hard Met fan. He lives in the next building from me. Cheers.