A New York Story: Polo Grounds

Over sixty years ago right fielder Bobby Thompson crossed home plate and a thousand kids in nickel caps danced on Harlem stoops with dreams filling their heads that someday they too would swat the high fastball into the left field bleachers at the Polo Grounds and win the pennant, finally, for their New York Giants.

And then, in 1964, the dream was over.

The ball club moved west. They tore down the park, razed the land and built the Polo Grounds Towers. A sanctuary that children used to sneak into became low-income housing on West 155th Street, a place children can only hope to escape. Runs from the fire department punctuate daily life and even the most modest dreams often collide with hard realities. The only thing that signals a game was ever played there is a bronze plaque on the pillar of the North Tower and a decrepit and sectioned off staircase that leads down from Edgecombe Avenue.

Pete Hamill, novelist and storied New York reporter, winces as he remembers the meaning of the departure. He points out that it was at ballparks like the Polo Grounds where immigrants like his father truly became Americans because it was within those walls that they sat shoulder to shoulder with other New Yorkers. It didn't matter if they were from Salerno or Cork. The only thing that mattered was the game and the team and when that was gone many of those memories crumbled along with the skeleton of the park, all of it in a city where some never forgot.

And for those people the Polo Grounds still exists. Bill Kent, President of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, still recites with youthful exuberance line-ups and days sixty years past when he lounged in the bleachers between double-headers. For him and the society he runs, the park could never leave. After all, no one forgets their first love. As Mr. Kent sits outside his apartment and bears his heart, it's almost as if at any moment, he'll turn and look toward Edgecombe Avenue so that he might catch a glimpse of the stadium lights still there, still shining and hear those cheering voices carried along by the Harlem River winds.

Things won't change any time soon at the Polo Grounds Towers. Sometimes change isn't always for the best and as time passes fewer and fewer people on those Harlem streets will talk about the 'Say Hey Kid' and 'The Shot Heard 'Round the World.' Eras end. Parks are torn down. Fields are paved over. But, as Bill Kent shows, memories can rebuild what has been lost. Dreams still make the old young and there will always be the high fastball and the left field bleachers for those who remember.