On a hot August evening last summer I met a guy named Bill Kent on my way home. We got to talking and as it turns out, he is a great New York Giants fan. He told me that he gets together with a group of old Giants fans several times a year and invited me to come along to one of the gatherings. I missed the shindig in September but last night, I headed up to the Hunan Balcony on Johnson avenue in Riverdale–just a few blocks away from my apartment–for Chinese and baseball with a dozen or so other fans.
I used to swear by the old Groucho Marx line (filtered through Woody Allen) about not wanting to belong to any kind of club that would have someone like me for a member, but am happy to say, I’m way past that now. I am honored to hang around or be associated with a group of baseball nerds, regardless of their age. There was a reporter there from The Riverdale Press who is a few years younger than me, and we were by the far the youngest of the group. Most of the guys were Giants fans, but there was also a Dodger fan, and a guy who was simply a baseball fan too. Some kept up with the Giants once they moved to the west coast, while others gravitated to the Mets, and even more, to the Yankees.
They were great company. I peppered them with questions about Leo the Lip, Bill Rigney, Alvin Dark, and the Polo Grounds shuttle, a train that ran from Manhattan over the east river and into the Bronx. As we were breaking up for the night, Steve, who I had not gotten the chance to really chat with because of where we had been sitting, asked if I had gotten a satisfactory answer to my subway question. I told him that I hadn’t, and being a subway buff, he gave me the skinny. As it turns out, the 9th avenue El, which was discontinued in 1939, went up the west side of Manhattan and then curved over into the bronx, over a bridge that is no longer there, and connected with the Woodlawn line (or the Lexington avenue line, the 4 train, as it is more commonly known). Well, when they took down the line, they kept the last portion of it, primarily as a way to get from the Bronx to the Polo Grounds.
The baseball talk was terrific. Bill, holding court, made some announcements about a mailing list and getting a Giants newsletter, and then had some random interjections like, “They’ve got brown rice if anyone wants.” There were stories about Yankee third baseman named Celerino Sanchez, as well as the slow-footed catcher Ernie Lombardi, who evidentally was even slower than the Molina brothers are today. Bill told us of the time that he and a kid from his neighborhood, a wiseass named Lenny, heckled Lomardi from the bleachers at the Polo Grounds before the game. He was busting on Lombardi for being so slow and Lombardi went after little Lenny with the high-pitched voice and according to Bill, chased him the length of the field. Bill said he spoke to Lenny not so long ago, and Lenny was still sore about Lombardi going after him.
The guys had terrific faces–one looked like he could be related to Yogi Berra, another like he could be Whitey Ford’s cousin. One guy looked like Ron Silver, another like basketball broadcaster Bill Raftery, another like a cross between Edmund Wilson and Gordon Jump. One fella brought posters to show us, and another is writing a book about Bill Terry. And even better than their mugs was their accents–bonafide New Yorkese, man. It was like listening to music–everyone gabbing over each other. Really, I was in heaven. I mean, how great is it to learn about a guy with a name like Celerino Sanchez eating chicken with Broccoli with a group of baseball guys in the Bronx? Riddle me that.
Oh, and when the fortune cookies and orange slices came, everyone grabbed for the cookies but nobody read their fortunes aloud. Know what mine said? “Love.” I’ve never had a one word fortune before, but that one just about said it all.