"Hey Dad, who were you just talking to down at the end of the bar?"
"Oh, that's Al Dorow, the quarterback for the New York Titans."
It was fall 1961, Dad and I were in Loftus Tavern after throwing the ball around outside on York Avenue. My two teams, the New York Giants, football, and the Yankees, baseball, were playing well, the Yankees won the World Series in October and the Giants were on their way to the NFL championship game. The Titans, in their second year in the new American Football League, were barely catching my attention at 7 years old. But Al Dorow was a professional football player, and he did talk to my Dad, so that made him important in my life.
"Dad, will you take me to a Titan game?"
The next Saturday, Dad took me to the Polo Grounds where we saw the Titans beat the Oakland Raiders. That was my first time at the Polo Grounds, the Natural History Museum of ballparks compared to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yankee Stadium. Even at 7, I recognized I was in a place like no other, and it was going to go away forever, you could see it, smell it, hear it, feel it. Being small, only emphasized how outsized the space was, first time I saw a picture of St. Peter's Basilica I thought of the Polo Grounds.
The next year, 1962, was the Mets first year. I punished my father for not taking me to New York Giants football games, so he made it up to me by taking me to many, many baseball games. When the Yankees were out of town it was only natural that he would take me up to the Polo Grounds for a Met game and he picked a beaut for our first outing.
Friday night, June 1, 1962, the New York Mets versus the San Francisco Giants. The first New York appearance by the Giants since they ran away from home with the Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1957 season. Even though there were nearly 45,000 people there, Dad found us two seats high up in the grandstands right behind home plate in Section 1. The crowd's energy felt like they just left Circus Maximus, saw too few Christians die and wanted blood, now!
Dad did a score card in pencil, and I remember getting excited about three names, Paul Pryor, the third base umpire had the same last name as mine; Augie Donatelli, the head umpire behind the plate had the greatest sounding umpire's name I ever heard; and Willie Mays, in my mind Mickey Mantle's arch rival, was starting in centerfield for the Giants.
By the time the game started, there were two ejections in the section next to us. By the third inning, Dad threatened the guy behind us, "If one more drop of beer touches my kid's head, you and I have a problem." The guy said nothing. I stayed dry. In the top of the fifth, Willie Mays hit a homer, the only homer I would ever see Willie hit live. The homer triggered fights on top of us, below us and to each of our sides. I spent the sixth inning under my father's seat watching the game from between his legs. Dad pressed me to leave and I agreed when the Giants went up 9-1 in the top of the 7th inning.
I held Dad's hand walking to the subway. I knew he liked that.
This story appeared first in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood