Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My Polo Grounds Memories

Before Shea Stadium was built, the Mets played 2 full seasons at the Polo Grounds, which was right across the river from Yankee Stadium. I went to a handful of games and over 40 years later, these are the memories that linger.

First, there was the Memorial Day doubleheader against the Dodgers that attracted a packed house and although I had never sat in the bleachers before and didn't plan to that day, I had no choice if I wanted to get into the ballpark. Well, the bleachers were very, very, far out and this happened to be an unusally foggy day, so at times, all I could see was centerfielder Jim Hickman's head. I think Sandy Koufax pitched one game and I'm pretty sure the Mets lost both ends.

Another time, I asked for a seat "downstairs" and got this seat in the lower deck in rightfield that actually faced AWAY from the field, so I had to twist my neck all game to see the action. I think I left after 6 innings with the Mets 8 runs down.

Bad seats were very common in the Polo Grounds. If you were lucky enough to get one that wasn't behind a post, there's a good chance that it would be broken. Maybe if you could afford $3.50 for a box seat and bought it in advance, you didn't have to put up with this, but it always seemed that I did - oh well, suffering was definitely a part of being a Mets fan !

The player I remember most vividly was Jim Hickman. In retrospect, he probably symbolized the entire history of the Mets as well as any player could. He played more than any other outfielder because he had decent range and could hit the long ball, but struck out too much and appeared disinterested and lazy much of the time. Most Mets' fans were convinced that as soon as the Mets dumped him, he'd be back in AAA where he belonged. Surprisingly, Hickman later became an all-star and a .315 hitter for the Chicago Cubs. I attended a game where he hit for the cycle for the Mets - single, double, triple, homerun in that order in a game he started at third base to make room for newly acquired centerfielder Joe Hicks.

My final memory of the Polo Grounds occurred in one of the last games ever played there, late in the 1963 season. Near the end of the game, the Mets inserted a very young player named Cleon Jones into centerfield. The immediate reaction was "who?", but as an avid reader of The Sporting News, I knew Jones just had a solid season at Class B Raleigh and was touted as a top prospect. Was he ready ? No, it would be at least a couple of years, but of course, once Cleon arrived for good, he became the first real hitting star developed by the Mets and forty years later, still remains one of the best.

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