By Harry Keaney
These days, Leitrim man Pete Flynn finds himself in the midst of New York sporting history, yet he’s keeping his feet firmly on the ground — the grounds of the Shea Stadium in Queens, that is.
As baseball fans by the millions bask in the exuberance created by the Subway Series that is pitting the Yankees against the Mets, Flynn goes quietly and diligently about his job as head groundskeeper at Shea.
That’s not to say he is not caught up in the excitement of it all.
"It’s great to be a part of it, it’s great for the city. It means that everyone in New York is involved," Flynn said of the series. "We hadn’t one for 44 years, since 1956. And the Mets are only around since 1962. If it takes another 44 years, some of us will not be around."
Flynn himself has been a Mets fixture since their beginning, having arrived in New York from Canada in 1961. Like now, the baseball world was abuzz. Yankees slugger Roger Maris had hit 61 home runs, smashing Babe Ruth’s single-season record of 60, set in 1927. Maris, like latter day stars Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, was catapulted to stardom in a grand crescendo of what was a glorious season of America’s national pastime.
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Flynn’s first job in New York was as a handyman at the Polo Grounds, the venue where Cavan and Kerry played in the 1947 All-Ireland football final and where the Mets played their first two seasons. In 1964, Flynn and the Mets moved to their new home in Flushing, Queens.
Since then, Flynn’s memories have accumulated: In 1965, the Beatles played to 56,000 screaming fans as Flynn waited in an armored wagon behind the stage at second base to rush the group and their manager to a heliport at the World’s Fairgrounds. In 1969, the Mets won the World Series. In 1975, the Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants all played at Shea. In 1979, the pope came. And in 1986, the Mets again won the World Series.
Now comes the Subway Series, an occasion that means Shea’s manicured emerald turf, as well as that of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, are center-screen before millions of TV viewers. And although Flynn said the grounds at Shea are as good as they possibly can be, he admitted all the attention makes his job "a little harder." That’s because in the run-up to the series, a steady stream of visitors, journalists among them, have been visiting Shea and savoring the delight of taking a few steps on its greensward.
As the series continues with the Mets trailing two games to none heading into last night’s first of three scheduled games at Shea, Flynn will not have to worry about a repeat of events in 1969, when celebrating fans tore up the turf for souvenirs. Should the Mets prevail, they will do so at Yankee Stadium. Still 1969 remains a fresh memory.
"We have so much security and police, it will never happen again," Flynn said. "Fans know if they come out they will be arrested."
Despite the enormous visibility the Subway Series provides the Mets and their stadium, Flynn said he and his workers have been doing nothing special with the stadium’s natural grass grounds.
"It’s still baseball," he said.