August 8, 2015 - Visit to the Polo Grounds

Greg Prince (who writes this, this, and this) invited me to join him in an adventure to see the site of the old Polo Grounds. Home of the NY Giants [1890-1957], NY Mets [1962-1963], NY Yankees [1913-1922], football NY Giants [1925-1955], NY Jets [1960-1963], and 2 All*Star games [1934, 1942]. The place where Bobby Thompson hit "the shot heard 'round the world" in 1951 and the spot where Willie Mays made "The Catch" in the 1954 World Series.

When Greg suggested going there I was excited because seeing the Polo Grounds was one of the things I wanted to do while here in New York. I wanted to see the spot where Willie Mays played and where the Mets spent their first two seasons. This year I have visited five "Ghost Stadiums". Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Three Rivers (Pittsburgh), Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (Atlanta), and now the Polo Grounds. The Polo Grounds have a lot of sports history memories. The Yankees built their stadium just across the river from the home of the Giants.

This morning I woke up with a bit of a headache, no ... it was a hangover. I don't get them much but while watching the Mets win their 7th game in a row Friday night against Tampa I celebrated a bit too much out of the Vodka bottle. Today my quest was to meet Greg at Penn Station at Noon. Not sure of where to park my car, I found a metered lot a half block away from the Bayside Station. Then I figured out the LIRR ticket kiosk and where I needed to wait. I then boarded the LIRR train from Bayside to Penn Station in Manhattan. This is only my second excursion on public transportation in 4 months of living here and the first by myself. Well, the first leg was by myself. As I exited the train I followed everyone up an escalator. And I was lost. Penn Station is like the worst airport terminal ever without the planes. I texted Greg and he was minutes away to rescue me.

We walked out onto the street and there was Madison Square Garden where many sporting events and rock shows have been played. Greg took me to Foley's NY Pub and Restaurant for lunch. The place is packed with baseball memorabilia. We had a good lunch talking about the Mets and how much the team had changed in a two week period. I was still a little woozy but the caffeine in the ice tea helped. After lunch I followed Greg's lead for a few blocks and I realized I was walking next to the Empire State Building. It would take me along time to get to know this city, I just don't have the time or willingness to do so.

These apartment buildings stand where the Polo Grounds once did

We ducked into a subway station and started north. When we exited at 155th Street, we were right where the Polo Grounds used to be. It is now a huge housing complex, built in 1968, that consists of four thirty-story buildings with a total of 1,616 apartments. We walked a block over to the East River and we could see Yankee Stadium across the river.

Marker for the Polo Grounds

It took us a few minutes of searching but we found the plaque that designates where home plate approximately was located. That gave me some perspective on how the ballpark was laid out back in the day. As we walked around the complex, I could see Coogan's Bluff to the west and the Macombs Dam Bridge to the East. Macombs Dam Bridge is the third oldest bridge in New York. It spans the Harlem River and connects Manhattan to the Bronx. [thank you Wikipedia]. I can only imagine New York baseball fans going from The Giants game at the Polo Grounds, across the Macombs to the Yankees games at Yankee Stadium. I knew both ballparks were in close proximity to each other but now I've seen it myself. In the photo below you can see Coogan's Bluff behind the horseshoe shaped Polo Grounds. The bridge in front was used as a Polo Grounds shuttle until 1958, then removed. The Macombs Dam Bridge is the trestle on the left. Old Yankee Stadium is in the forefront of the photo. New Yankee Stadium was built to the right of the original.

Two stadiums and a bridge no longer exist.

Crowd watching from Coogan's Bluff

One of the legends of the Polo Grounds was Coogan's Bluff behind the stadium. Fans would stand on the bluff and watch games for free. There was a stairway built in 1913 that led to a ticket booth. It was named the "John T. Brush Stairway" after the owner of the Giants from 1890 to his death in 1912.

Before the restoration

Stairway before restoration

Built in 1913

Last remnant from the Polo Grounds

From Wikipedia: "In November 2011, it was reported that the stairway would undergo a $950,000 restoration, thanks to donations from the New York Giants, Jets, Yankees, Mets, San Francisco Giants, and Major League Baseball. After numerous delays, the restored steps opened finally in early August 2014. The restored stairway is considered a city historic landmark."

[Note: The Macombs Dam Bridge took five years and $1.3 million to build in 1895]

The restored stairway

Restored marker

Sign above the stairway

Watching from the trees at Coogan's Bluff

Greg showed me the street Willie Mays used to live on when he would be seen playing stickball with the kids in the neighborhood. One block of St. Nicholas Place was renamed Willie Mays Place in honor of one of New York's favorite players. That happened recently Greg said. We walked up the hill and into the subway for the trip back to Penn Station. I was still hurting from the hangover from this morning, and now I was winded from all the walking and stairs. Greg showed me where to wait for my train back to Bayside, I got on the correct train, and I made it back safely. Waiting for me on my car was a $35 parking ticket because I had paid for 4 hours and the round trip took me 5 1/2. Just my luck.

Willie Mays Place

Thanks to Greg for taking me along on the adventure. We may have to visit Ebbet's Field when we get a day free. That would give me 6 "Ghost Parks" this year. And when I get home I will have to visit the newest "Ghost" ballpark, Candlestick Park in San Francisco.