Category: Archive

Leitrim’s Flynn the ‘Quiet Man’ of Shea

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

In 1961, just like now, the baseball world was abuzz with talk of home runs. Yankee slugger Roger Maris struck 61, smashing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record of 60. Maris, like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, was catapulted to stardom in a grand crescendo of what was another glorious season in America’s national pastime.

It was against this background that Leitrim immigrant Pete Flynn descended into the rabid New York baseball scene. "When I came here, I had never seen a baseball," Flynn said.

In the almost 40 years since, the Ballinamore native has learned more than most about baseball. Shea Stadium, where he is now head groundskeeper, has become his second home, and his mind and memento-filled office are, respectively, a rich repository of baseball memories and memorabilia.

Bearded to protect his face from the searing summer sun, Pete Flynn is a soft-spoken perfectionist given to understatement. "I like what I do," he said. Flynn, of course, doesn’t have to boast; loudly and eloquently proclaiming testimony to his work is Shea’s manicured turf, a glorious emerald glistening incongruously amid Queens urban sprawl.

Flynn grew up in Coraugh, Ballinamore, the youngest of a family of seven. After leaving school, he worked for a while on the family farm, then spent six months in Dublin working as a bricklayer. In 1960, he left for Canada, where a brother had already immigrated. He worked in the uranium mines at Elliot Lake, Ont., followed by jobs in construction and landscaping. "You name it, I did it," Flynn said.

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"I had to move out of that part of Canada because there was no work," he said. "So I decided I would give New York a try. I came here in June 1961. I had two sisters here."

The following year, Flynn got a job with the New York Mets as a handyman at the Polo Grounds. It was the team’s first year of existence. Soon, the club was looking for someone to grade its grounds. "On my resume I had landscaping in Canada and I knew how to level a field and put sod down," Flynn recalled.

Of course, for Irish people in general, the Polo Grounds has had a special significance. "I knew Cavan and Kerry played there in the All-Ireland Final in 1947, and I helped do the field for the Cavan-Kerry game last year in Downing Stadium," Flynn said.

In 1964, Flynn and the Mets moved to their new home, the 55,000-seat Shea Stadium. Since then, the memories have accumulated. In 1965, as the Beatles played to 56,000 screaming kids, Flynn waited in an armored station 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, we had the Mets, the Yankees the Jets and Giants here," Flynn said. "I worked six months, days and nights, without a day off."

In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited, and in 1986, the Mets again won the World Series, defeating Boston in a climatic finish. As for this year, Flynn says the Mets had a good year but he is disappointed that they lost their last game against Atlanta.

But despite the glamour of baseball, Flynn and his five or six "regular guys" are workers behind the scenes, the ones who cut, water and fertilize the field, ensure it is properly drained, and free from grubs and fungus. It’s as if they are forever polishing their diamond in a perpetual quest for perfection. The hours are often long and irregular, but Flynn says the only bad thing about the job is when it rains on the day of a game.

Flynn’s office at Shea stadium is lined with pictures of baseball stars as well as photos of himself with such notables as President Nixon, Glen Close, Tom Sellick, Cardinal O’Connor, Barry McGuigan, and President Clinton, whom he met on Jackie Robinson Night last April at Shea when Robinson’s number was retired.

There’s also a large portrait of John Wayne. "I am a big fan of the Duke," Flynn said. Then, glancing at another picture of himself and Maureen O’Hara, Flynn says he wishes he could have got her to sign it. " ‘ The Quiet Man,’ I nearly know every word of that," he added.

As for his position as head groundskeeper, Flynn said it’s something he never even dreamed of. "I guess if you work hard enough, there is a reward at the end of it," he said.

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