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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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Lawn Gone Legend

The phrase “hey you kids, get off my lawn,” when used to mock someone’s stodgier instincts, has always bugged me, and not just because of my edging toward the demographic with which stodginess is reflexively associated. My stance isn’t in defense of stodge. It’s the literal interpretation I can’t hack. If somebody has a lawn, why should that person have to allow it to be trampled on by interlopers of any age?

It’s a different story, I suppose, if you’re talking about your own kids. Your own kids are probably welcome on your lawn. Probably. Maybe you love your lawn enough that you have to make the call on a case-by-case basis.

Pete Flynn loved his lawn. Our lawn — but it was his to tend. He made it a field of dreams and, given that awesome responsibility, was entitled to insist it not be trampled into a nightmarish state.

Pete was with the Mets just about forever, from sometime in 1962 until the franchise had turned in a half-century of operation. The bulk of that tenure was spent as head groundskeeper at Shea Stadium, the heart of it in 1986, when those of us who’d only heard his name in passing during rain delays and such, heard from Pete Flynn directly.

His message: Get off my/our lawn.

This was the night of September 17, 1986, the night Mets fans had waited for since also just about forever. The Mets clinched the National League East that night. The title was a foregone conclusion all summer. The wait for the Mets to qualify again for anything beyond a high draft pick had been endless. Technically, it dated to 1973, but the years moved very slowly from 1974 forward. We just wanted to celebrate another day of clinching. It was nowhere in sight for an eternity. Then it was so close we could taste it. Finally, it was at hand.

The magic number was 1. The score was Mets 4 Cubs 2. The game was in the top of the ninth. There were two outs. Chico Walker grounded to Wally Backman. Backman flipped to Keith Hernandez. The Mets were champs. The Shea Stadium lawn represented, through informal institutional precedent, the spoils of victory. Mets fans piled on to it in 1969 with joyous abandon. Mets fans piled on again in 1973 with the abandon veering to the aggressive. Mets fans who remembered how it was done in the past went for it once more in 1986 — packing pent-up gusto and tubular tunnelvision. Here came the fans from Field Level. From Loge. From Mezzanine. From Upper Deck. From the outer reaches of the solar system from the looks of it. The Mets barely made it into the clubhouse. Some were scathed. The lawn was ravaged.

Pete Flynn was not happy. He let it be known that the fans who did this — not all almost-50,000 in the house, but more than enough to graze disastrously through the grass — did not deserve a winner. It was a harsh rebuke amid an evening of ebullience.

But he was right. The kids (and adults) should’ve stayed off his lawn. He and his crew were the ones who had to stay up all night to repair it, keeping at it the next morning, too, because the National League East champion Mets had another game to play against the Cubs early that afternoon. All of Pete’s sod and all of Pete’s men made it passable for another Mets win. The groundskeeper may not have thought we deserved a winner, but he made sure we had the chance to keep having one for the rest of that magical year, for the rest of September, for all of October.

The Mets became world champions on Pete Flynn’s lawn on October 27, 1986. The neighborhood kids were convinced to stay off it. The NYPD mounted patrol did the most obvious persuading, but I’d like to think Pete’s tone of disapproval resonated with its desired effect. Why would you want to get a good man like that mad at you?

For the rest of his groundskeeping career, until his passing on Wednesday at the age of 79, Pete Flynn was as famous as most Mets. He was the guy who shook his head and went to work after the first of three flags was won in that year to remember. The Mets wouldn’t again so easily win divisions, let alone pennants and World Series. Pete kept working, regardless. Pete was part of Shea. Pete was part of us. Pete enjoyed a well-deserved star turn for his long and meritorious service. He was featured in The Last Play at Shea, playing a supporting role alongside Paul McCartney. The two fellows from the UK shared a couple of car rides, the film noted. Pete drove the Beatles onto the field in 1965 and the Cutest among them onto the same field in 2008.

Pete came off as pretty adorable himself in that movie, but he was, in real life, a regular guy taking care of a significant lawn. I had the pleasure of a conversation with him once, well after 1986, well before 2008. A friend of a friend somehow got me to the cusp of the Shea field in advance of a DynaMets Dash so I could take part in something I never dreamed would be accessible to me. They didn’t have DynaMets dashes when I was a kid and I was never the kind to storm somebody else’s lawn, even in victory.

I can’t stress how far above the recommended age I was for the DynaMets Dash. I probably should have brought a note from my doctor. But there I was, in cahoots with another friend getting the same improbable opportunity, standing in that little staging area behind home plate, waiting for the Mets game to finish so my run of a lifetime could begin. That’s how it worked if someone was thoughtfully sneaking you ahead of the youngsters for your shot at rounding the bases.

I was there, my friend was there, our benefactor was there, members of the grounds crew were there and, yes, Pete Flynn was there. Introductions were made. Pete took a gander at my friend and me, oversized DynaMets Dashers to be that we were.

“Aren’t you two a little big for this?” Pete asked, gleam plainly visible in his smiling Irish eyes.

“No,” I replied with as much innocence as I could muster. “We’re just taking that stuff McGwire had in his locker.”

Pete Flynn laughed at something I said. That was about as good as getting to step foot on his lawn and run around his dirt. Before we could, though, we were explicitly told to be careful to not actually touch his grass. And you can bet we listened.

4 comments to Lawn Gone Legend

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Excellent post. Interacting with Pete Flynn (and making him laugh!) is something any Met fan should be boastful about. I realized I had a serious problem on Closing Day in 2011 when Pete Flynn had a small on-field retirement ceremony and I started welling up.

    Also, I just did the math and realized you were about my age when you ran the bases. Had I been in your shoes I would have done the same thing.

  • Dave

    Great tribute Greg, and I think you would’ve made Pete laugh all over again. My then wife-to-be and I were at that clincher (10 days before we made it official), although we were good and stayed off Pete’s lawn. So many people tell stories of their first game by commenting on the initial glimpse of that huge bright green expanse, and Pete took such good care of all three of ours. RIP.

  • Lenny65

    I remember watching the clips of the 1973 pennant clincher, those “fans” were hell-bent on destruction. If you watch the footage you can see Tug McGraw literally brawling his way back to the dugout. They were on the field before the play was even over. I’m glad the ’86 division clincher marked the end of those mini fan riots, someone (possibly even a player) was bound to get seriously injured or worse. I wonder what younger fans think when they see that old footage of fans overrunning the field, like 1973 or when the Y*****s won the pennant in ’76? It must seem like total madness.

    I remember reading an article on groundskeepers way (way) back when and Mr. Flynn offered up a lawn care tip I still use to this day (pre-germinate some seed in a plastic milk jug full of water and apply to bare patches). RIP to an unheralded Mets legend.

  • Gil

    Fantastic tribute. That was just great.