09/26/2008 12:19 PM ET
A groundskeeper says goodbye
Flynn, a native of Ireland, has been with Mets since 1962
By Joey Wahler / Special to SNY.tv
Pete Flynn and Mr. Met help count down the remaining games at Shea Stadium, which closes this season. (New York Mets)

It was a popular trivia question years ago: Who was the only person to play for the Knicks, the Rangers and the old Brooklyn Dodgers? The answer: Gladys Gooding, then the organist at Madison Square Garden and Ebbets Field.

Now the more modern version: Who is the only one to be on the field for the Mets since 1962? The answer: Pete Flynn, who has been part of the team's grounds crew since its inception, serving as head groundskeeper from 1974 through 2000.

"I didn't think I'd be there a year," said Flynn, much less for more than four decades.

As Shea's final days dwindle to a precious few, with new Citi Field hovering in the shadows, Flynn said, "I like it here. We're here so long, from the beginning."

For Flynn, the beginning meant the Polo Grounds, the Mets' home their first two seasons. He emigrated from County Leitrim, Ireland, in 1961.

"There's no baseball in Ireland," Flynn said. "It took me a year to understand the game."

Over the years, Shea's field became Flynn's field, which he has manicured for a few generations of the game's stars.

"I grew to like it," he said. "When you don't understand the game, it's not fun. But then when you get to understand the game, it's the next thing to playing it. To be able to keep a field for them, and be close to them, you know?"

At the Polo Grounds, Flynn helped build the advance-ticket booth, then joined the grounds crew there, tending to the diamond during that inaugural Met season.

"We had a lot of work to do to get it ready, because they had stock car racing on it, and it was a mess when we went in, in January of '62," Flynn said. "But we got it in good playing condition."

With the Titans playing at the Polo Grounds and the Jets playing at Shea, football was just one big obstacle Flynn had to overcome to get the Mets' home field Major League ready. He has endured poor architecture, lousy drainage, even raw sewage sweeping through the Mets clubhouse the day of Shea's first home opener in 1964.

Over the years, though, as the Mets got better, so too did Shea's field.

"They got rid of the railroad tracks," Flynn said. "There used to be a rise in left and right field, because it was steel plates. And there was always a rise. The other way the field used to sink. And it was top soil and a very bad drainage. So when it rained, the water sat there for a couple of days."

Still, Flynn says he has missed only about a dozen games.

"I'd have to be dying to call in on a game day," he said.

Just as pitching was always the Met organization's jewel, even as everything was collapsing around it, Shea's mound was always the part of Flynn's field unaffected by the surrounding chaos.

"They always liked the mound," Flynn said of the Mets pitchers. "[Tom] Seaver, and [Jerry] Koosman, and those guys. They always said we had the best mound in the National League."

Popular posters during the 1970s featured Seaver about to unleash a pitch, his powerful delivery showing his right knee stained with dirt. That was Flynn's dirt.

"We always got along great," he said of Seaver.

Although pieces of Shea's remains are being sold off, Flynn has the best kind of mementos, those stored in his mind's eye. Like recollections of when the Cubs visited, and enthusiastic Hall of Famer Ernie Banks would direct his famed motto, "Let's play two" at Flynn."

"Back then, they played for fun, I think," Flynn said. "It don't seem to be that way today. It seems like it's business more so than fun."

In a game where few things have stayed the same, Flynn has remained a constant, as has the enjoyment for him in coming to the ballpark.

"You've got to be dedicated," he said. "You've got to love what you do, and you have to spend an awful lot of time at it."

Like all Met fans, Flynn has lived through the franchise's highs and lows. When fans tore up Flynn's field after the Mets clinched their division in 1986, he was openly furious. Flynn says he tried to warn management beforehand.

"I kept telling them that they were going to come out, and they kept telling me, 'No,'" Flynn said. "And we had a game the next day, and you get angry that way because the field was looking good, and all of a sudden it gets ripped up. We had the security that night, but they just didn't put them out there."

That was the last time Shea's faithful would ever storm the field, resulting in an increase in on-field security at all baseball stadiums after series clinchers, including the use of mounted police.

Who'd have thought an Irish immigrant would get to meet the likes of President Nixon, President Clinton, and his countrywoman, actress and singer Maureen O'Hara? Flynn has had photographs taken with them all at Shea.

"An awful lot of people that I never dreamt I'd even see up close, never mind to get a picture taken with them," Flynn said.

In recognition of his Irish heritage and baseball contributions, Flynn was recently among the inductees into the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, housed at Foley's, the Irish bar located across from the Empire State Building.

Honorees along with Flynn include slugger Mark McGwire, manager Connie Mack, Mets reliever Tug McGraw, actor Kevin Costner of Field of Dreams, and Daily News columnist "Red" Foley.

"That was a great thrill, to be inducted with the guys," Flynn said. "It was an honor for me. I never expected that."

Yes, when the Mets move over to Citi Field next season, Flynn will be there with them.

"At least another year," he said, when asked how much longer he'll tend to the field. "I want to say that I worked the three stadiums."

Told that's likely a Major League record for one groundskeeper with a single franchise, Flynn said, laughing, "That would be good. There's not that many that last. This is my 47th season."

Next year, Shea's infield will remain intact in Citi Field's parking lot, to be used for games involving the handicapped. Imagine when Flynn returns to find the rest of the field, Flynn's field, finally torn down.

"It's going to take a while to get used to it," he said, chuckling.

You may wonder which piece of Shea Flynn will take as a keepsake before its doors close for good. Like Flynn himself, the memento will be understated, yet just right.

"I'm going to bring home a little piece of the dirt," he said. "That's about it."

Imagine, a man who knew nothing about baseball when he came from the old country, making the game his life's work, his life's love, all these years.

"It was luck," Flynn said.

The luck of the Irish?

"The luck of the Irish," he said. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

Joey Wahler is a contributor to SNY.tv.
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