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.