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Friday, January 21, 2011
New York (N.L.), past and present

By Greg W. Prince



I relished an opportunity to drop in on the San Francisco Giants Friday morning, seeing as how I maintain a historical fondness for their predecessors, the New York Giants. As a lifelong Mets fan born the same year as my team, I see the Giants as my historical predecessors.

Before New York (N.L.) signified Mets, it meant Giants. My Mets featured an orange NY that I learned as a kid had once belonged to those Giants. Somewhere along the way, I decided to take the whole thing happily personally. New York Mets fan in my heart, I like to say, New York Giants fan in my soul.

Dropping in on the San Francisco Giants didn’t require a road trip of any great length. For this weekend, they’re sort of trying on the old address again. Just for fun, just for a couple of days, they’re dabbling in being New York (N.L.) once more. There’s this big baseball dinner in Manhattan, and the Giants are due some recognition, seeing as how in the fall of 2010 they won their first World Series since a previous Giants owner abandoned New York in the fall of 1957.

To make an event of it, the current owner and his staff brought their hard-earned Commissioner’s Trophy with them on this trip. They’re showing it off to anyone who’s interested in seeing it. Plenty of New Yorkers are. The Giants are gone from the city well over 50 years, but New York Giants fans remain. Some stayed loyal to the San Francisco iteration from 3,000 miles away. Others just like the idea that baseball Giants once strode this earth.

Either way, the Giants who are rediscovering their roots at the moment look and feel surprisingly at home.

When I saw them Friday, they were all but rolling up the tarp and preparing to play ball at the Polo Grounds. There is no more Polo Grounds, of course, but there is an elementary school, P.S. 46, right next to where there used to be a ballpark. The Giants decided to head uptown, to Eighth Avenue and 155th Street, to teach those kids a history lesson. They brought their trophy as a visual aid and they brought Willie Mays for show and tell.

If that big baseball dinner gives out an award for best show and tell, the Giants will win that, too.

Willie Mays made his name -- and his nickname -- no more than a fly ball from where that Harlem school stands. The Polo Grounds is where the Say Hey Kid earned his masters in baseball. St. Nicholas Place, literally around the corner, is where he minored in stickball. Willie delighted in being “home,” he told the students Friday. This, he insisted, was and still is his neighborhood. For a few minutes in the P.S. 46 auditorium, you listened to Willie say hey and so much more, and you began to believe it was still the Giants’ home.

Unless you count spiritually, it isn’t. These Giants will fly west Sunday as the San Francisco Giants. They have been since 1958. That’s their business. The Mets’ business is to figure out a way to win their first Commissioner’s Trophy in a quarter-century, conduct their own goodwill tour -- they were the Polo Grounds’ last occupants during the first two years of their existence -- and maybe secure the hearts and minds of schoolchildren throughout the Metropolitan area. You might say, too, that the Mets’ business is to decisively fill the role of (New York N.L.) in the here and now.

While the Giants were extending their 2010 victory lap east, the Mets were nailing down a series of signings designed to fit their budget-conscious 2011 plans: Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Chris Young, Tim Byrdak, Blaine Boyer. Also, several Mets, including one of their owners, participated in rigorous fire safety drills at the FDNY training academy on Thursday. The Mets were a good choice to take part in learning how best to prevent fires.

Nobody’s accusing them lately of showing any kind of spark.

Greg W. Prince is co-author of Faith and Fear in Flushing, the blog for Mets fans who like to read.