Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race, and Baseball History

By Jules Tygiel | Go to book overview

TWELVE

The Polo Grounds

I first experienced the Polo Grounds in its afterlife. It was no longer what writers in the 1910s dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world”; nor was it the “opera house and the fighting cockpit of the golden age of Sports” of the 1920s, or even the inspirational site of Bobby Thomson's 1951 “Shot Heard 'Round the World” or Willie Mays's miracle catch in the 1954 World Series. The Polo Grounds in 1962 more resembled, according to a Sporting News headline, a “Torpedoed Ship That Refuses to Sink, ” or, in the words of Roger Angell, a “doomed old stadium.” Given up for dead after the Giants had moved to San Francisco in 1958, the Polo Grounds had won a brief reprieve from demolition with the arrival of the New York Mets. While New York City built a new pleasure palace in Flushing Meadows, the fledging Mets would cavort in the well-worn arena on the banks of the Harlem River in upper Manhattan.

For a thirteen-year-old Brooklynite, little more than a month removed from his bar mitzvah, the trek to the Polo Grounds on April 27, 1962, marked yet another rite of passage. I had attended baseball games before— at Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers had celebrated my baseball baptism by hitting three ninth-inning home runs to defeat the Phillies 6—5, and at Yankee Stadium, where Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams had welcomed me with titanic home runs—but on those occasions my father had accompanied me. Now Robert Dorin, one full month my junior, and I were to attend our first ball game unescorted and unsupervised, newly anointed young men unleashed into the urban wilderness. The journey itself tested our adolescent mettle. We boarded the Remsen Avenue bus en route to the Utica Avenue station, where we caught the IRT Seventh Avenue subway. At Forty-second Street in Manhattan, we transferred to the D train on the Independent Line and traveled north to 155th Street, where we climbed the stairs to Eighth Avenue in the shadow of the looming stadium.

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