BY LIZ GOFF AND STEPHEN McGUIRE
It all began with Casey at the bat – well, sort of.
Casey Stengel, the gnarled baseball veteran with the craggy face had just been released by the New York Yankees – a provision, they said, of the organization’s “Retire at 65” policy – a policy which no one had ever heard of.
Stengel had been fired by the Yankee management after a 12-year stretch of unprecedented success by the Bronx Bombers – under his managerial talents.
When Stengel was first approached by Mets president George Weiss to manage the fledgling baseball team, Casey was less than enthusiastic. He had turned down a job as manager of the Detroit Tigers, and showed little interest in Weiss’ offer.
But Weiss, a former Yankee general manager, refused to give up and as far as he was concerned, only one man could fill the spiked shoes of the New York Mets’ first manager.
With persistence and not-so-gentle persuasion, Weiss convinced Stengel to get back into the game and on September 29, 1961, 72-year-old Casey Stengel became the first manager of the New York Mets.
Casey would take aim at structuring the new team when the Mets took to the field for the first time in 1962.
FIELD OF DREAMS
Where would the Mets field their first fly ball? Answer — in the old Polo Grounds, home of Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell and Willie Mays.
Once the home of the departed Giants, the Polo Grounds had been abandoned since the team packed up and moved away. The horseshoe-shaped ballpark would come alive again – though temporarily – as the home of the New York Mets . . . until they could build a home of their own.
The site for the new stadium had been chosen.
The first ballpark built in New York City since Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 was in Queens – on a tract of land adjacent to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The stadium would be paid for with money raised through a bond issue that had been authorized by the New York State Legislature.
The choice of the site made Queens the fourth of the five New York City boroughs to have a major league baseball club. Manhattan had been home to the Giants, the Bronx had the Yankees, and Brooklyn, of course, had the Dodgers.
FROM THE TOP DOWN
The Mets, unlike most professional organizations, built their team from the top down – beginning with Weiss, Stengel, and then the players.
The future Queens Boys of Summer were eagerly awaited by former Dodgers and Giants stalwarts. Left in limbo, and baseball club-less since their teams departed New York City, Dodgers and Giants fans had accepted the new team on faith, declaring themselves Mets fans.
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
As the new Mets team battled through their first season (1962), their new home began to take shape in Flushing Meadows.
The Mets hoped the stadium would be ready for the 1963 season, but construction delays kept the Queens team in Manhattan until Opening Day 1964.
Shea Stadium was named for William Shea, the attorney responsible for bringing National League Baseball back to New York City.
The stadium cost $28 million and took 29 months from it’s groundbreaking in October 1961 until its dedication on April 17, 1964 to build.
The new home of the Mets, was originally going to be called Flushing Meadow Park, but the name was changed when city officials started a movement to name it after Shea.
Containing 24 ramps and 21 escalators, Shea was the first stadium able to be converted from baseball to football and back by use of motor operated stands that moved on underground tracks.
Legend has it that when city officials scouted the location to build a ballpark, they went in winter when the LaGuardia Airport flight paths were different.
The planner never anticipated that the sounds of planes passing overhead would make Shea Stadium the noisiest park in all of major league baseball.
When the stadium was opened in 1964, it was “christened” with “Dodgers Holy Water,” from the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and water from the Harlem River at the exact location where it passed the Polo Grounds.
Along the way, the Mets acquired another big-league team – of announcers. Lindsay Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner were hired to call the balls and strikes for Mets fans.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Over the years, Shea Stadium has hit some high notes of its own.
The Beatles played there, to hoards of screaming fans. Likewise, the Rolling Stones and Elton John rocked the home of the New York Mets.
Pope John Paul II prayed with the faithful in the home of the Amazins’ and President Bill Clinton took to home plate at Shea to honor Jackie Robinson.
But there are rumors now, echoes of discontent with the 37-year-old stadium. The team’s owners are playing serious hardball with state and city officials over the Mets organization’s plans to leave Shea when the team’s lease expires in 2004.
Co-owner Nelson Doubleday has raised the possibility of moving the franchise across the city line to a site near Belmont Raceway. His partner, Fred Wilpon has discussed plans about upgrading the city-owned Shea Stadium with New York officials. Wilpon’s plans call for a new, state-of-the-art ballpark to be built on the site of Shea. The stadium, along with its parking lots, comprises 55 acres of city parkland.
Wilpon has received assurances of support from city and state officials for a proposed amusement center to be built on the site of the current Mets ballpark, and for a new ballpark to be built on adjacent land.
The Mets haven’t started packing yet, since the construction proposals are still on the drawing board. But organization officials vow to make the city move on their needs before their new millennium lease expires.
Stengel told the media he had no illusions about his new club. But he had located the spirit and character of his new players, calling them “Amazin’.” This, before the team had been completed or played their first game.
An irrepressible phrasemaker in his own right, Stengel had tossed off a moniker for the Mets that was destined for long and affectionate usage.
In 1969, the Mets rose from the baseball dumps to the top of the baseball heap.
And in 1986 another miracle – fueled by a ground ball hit down the first base line through the legs of Boston Red Sox fielder Bill Buckner by Mookie Wilson – put the Mets on track to a Second world Championship.
This year the Mets have made it to the top – a Subway Series—and no matter what the outcome to their fans they will always remain… simply Amazin’!
Subway Series On The Queens Line
Mets and Yankee fans from across the Big Apple were flying their true colors at a pre-World Series pep- rally held in Manhattan’s Bryant Park on Friday, Oct. 20.
Thousands of cheering fans huddled onto both sides of the Midtown park – one side was designated for Mets fans and the other side for Yankee fans – to cheer for their favorite baseball team.
On hand were Mayor Rudy Giuliani who wished both teams luck in the Subway Series and Yankee organist and Forest Hills resident Eddie Layton who wowed the crowd with his keyboard skills.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
When it comes to baseball, Queens has been the home of some good sports who have played in or have been an important part of the game. Here are a few of baseballs favorites with ties to the city’s best borough:
Roy Campanella – One of “Dem Bums,” this former Brooklyn Dodgers catcher and baseball Hall-of Famer once lived in St. Albans.
Edward “Whitey” Ford – The Yankee Hall-of-Fame pitcher held the record for scoreless innings until Oct. 2000 when Yankee hurler “El Duque” outpitched him. Ford lived in Astoria and Little Neck and attended Aviation High School in Long Island City.
Willie Mays – The “say hey kid,” arguably the best baseball player ever once owned a home in East Elmhurst overlooking LaGuardia Airport. Mays played for both the New York Giants and the New York Mets.
Phil Rizzuto—”Scooter” Rizzuto owned shortstop as a member of the indestructible 1050’s Yankee team. Scooter called balls and strikes on the Yanks radio network until he clashed with the boss. Rizzuto graduated from Richmond Hill High School.
Bob Shepard – The “voice” of the Yankees – the Bombers’ public address announcer grew up in Richmond Hill.
Jackie Robinson – After breaking baseball’s color barrier, the Dodgers’ legend lived his retirement years (1949-1956) in Addisleigh Park.
Babe Ruth – In addition to having a name almost synonomous with the game of baseball, Ruth loved to play golf. “The Babe” won some of his golf trophies playing at the St. Alban’s Golf Course – near his Queens home. The trophies, along with other Babe Memorbilia are on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY.
Tom Seaver – “Tom Terrific” once lived on 215 th Street in Bayside and in Flushing.
Allen Watson – This Yankee relief pitcher who was on the mound during the 1999 World Series hails from Middle Village.
TRAIN OF THOUGHT
On the eve of the Subway Series, the NYPIRG Straphangars Campaign called the subway to Shea Stadium a “clear winner” over the two lines – the D and the #4 – serving Yankee Stadium.
“The #7 serving Shea is the best line in the city,” said Gene Rusainoff, Straphangers staff attorney. He noted the #7 was the highest rated line in the annuall state of the subways report, released in July.
‘The subway to Shea runs well ahead of those that lead to the home of Bronx Bombers. The teams are well matched but their Subway lines are not,” Rusianoff said.
Bayside Businessman Has Mets In Stitches
If a stitch in time saves nine then Russ Gompers will one day have more than a few hours and a lot of Mets memories on his hands.
Gompers is the owner of Stitches in Bayside, the company responsible for putting the pieces together that make up the uniforms for the New York Mets.
“It’s a dream for me” said Gompers, a life-long Mets fan who has backed the Flushing favorites before and ever since he ran on the field at Shea and un-rooted a sod filled souvenir after the final game of the 1969 World Series.
From his office filled with memorabilia and boxes filled with uniforms designed for everyone from local bar league softball teams to both teams of this years Subway World Series, Gompers explained how he got the job tailor made for a true Mets fan.
“On a Saturday night eight years ago, I was shopping with my wife and I got a message from Steve Cohen,” Gompers explained.
According to the Bayside businessman, the company that previously handled the team’s uniforms was unable to help out and “they (the Mets) were calling up a kid from Tidewater that day.”
“We did the shirt” and Stitches has been making the team uniforms ever since.
His business relationship with the team also turned into a friendship which has allowed him to travel with the team throughout the years.
Most of the team “knows me as Stitches,” Gompers said referring to his nickname.
“I was in Japan,” with the team at the beginning of the season and “in the locker room when they clinched,” Gompers said referring to the Oct 16 game when the Mets became National League Champs and pointing to an uncorked bottle of champagne sitting on an adjacent shelf.
— Stephen McGuire
Witches Work: In Queens, It’s Not What You’re Thinking
BY NICK BUGLIONE
As October 31 looms, extra cobwebs, bobbing ghosts and grinning Jack O’Lanterns are materializing on front lawns around the borough, but if you spot a green, warty woman in a black pointy hat riding a broom-stick on the display, two Queens gentle-men want you to know that their kind of witch doesn’t look anything like that.
“Ever since I started, I couldn’t stop,” said Vincent Ianacci, a 22-year-old Astoria resident who has been practicing witchcraft for the past year and a half. “I just got hooked.”
Ianacci, whose interest in witchcraft was sparked by the book Modern Magic, says he’s spent over $6,000 on literature and other witchcraft-related items since becoming involved in the occult.
Yet he’s quick to point out that despite the fervor he and other witches display toward this ancient pagan dogma, witchcraft has gotten an unwarranted bad reputation.
“It’s so mis-understood,” Ianacci said. “I think television and newspapers have made it out to be something it’s not.”
According to Ianacci, witchcraft can be either good or evil depending on the disposition of the person practicing it and a lot of witches are mild and even-tempered.
Inaccurately believed to be messengers of the devil by the Christian world, Ianacci said elements and ceremonies of the occult have ironically pervaded and influenced Christian holidays.
“People are very negative toward it,” said Ianacci, noting that he’s gotten some flack for his unconventional hobby. “If they knew what it really was then they wouldn’t be negative.”
Regardless of how they are viewed, there is a minority of Queens natives that continue to practice the rituals witchcraft.
“There are a lot of groups and they’re not too hard to find,” said Ianacci. In fact, for the past four years a local council of one of the oldest and largest organizations of witches in the world has been meeting in western Queens.
“There are a lot of groups and they’re not too hard to find”
Located in Long Island City, Gotham C.O.G. is a branch of the national association Covenant of the Goddess, an umbrella organization of autonomous witchcraft congreg-ations.
Formed in 1975, this group fosters cooperation among witches and secures for them the legal protections enjoyed by members of other religions.
“It’s definitely something that’s growing both in terms of people joining and people who want to go to occasional rituals. The local council actually covers all of New York City and two counties in New Jersey,” said 55-year-old Long Island City resident Rich Wandel, who will become first officer of Gotham C.O.G. when the council celebrates it’s new year on Oct. 31, on the popularity of witchcraft.
“It is a goddess worshiping, nature religion, it’s polytheistic,” Wandel said, stressing the legitimacy of the following. “We are legal clergy, I even do weddings.”
Where All Queens’ Political Secrets Are Buried
Election day is just around the corner, and as the politicians search for their opponents’ buried past, the Tribune did a little searching of our own. We discovered a website that highlights some of the borough’s more interesting permanent residents.
PoliticalGraveyard.com lets the user dig up some of the historic political figures buried right next door, and in the spirit of the Halloween season, we offer the following guide to the silenced political minds that can be found under a patch of green lawn near you.
Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Jr. (1910-1991) Member of New York state assembly, 1937-41; served in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II; mayor of New York, 1954-65; candidate for U.S. Senator from New York, 1956; delegate to New York state constitutional convention, 1967; U.S. Ambassador to Spain, 1968-69; alternate delegate to Democratic National Convention from New York, 1972. Died of heart failure in New York, N.Y., February 12, 1991.
Linden Hill Cemetery
Jacob (Koppel) Javits (1904-1986) Colonel in the U.S. Army during World War II; U.S. Representative from New York 21st District, 1947-54; New York State attorney general, 1955-57; U.S. senator from New York, 1957-81; delegate to Republican National Convention from New York, 1964. Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.
Old Montefiore Cemetery
Sidney Asher Fine (1903-1982) Member of New York State Assembly, 1945-46; member of New York State Senate 24th District, 1947-50; U.S. Repre-sentative from New York, 1951-56 (23rd District 1951-53, 22nd District 1953-56); state court judge, 1956-75.
Grace Church Cemetery
Rufus King (1755-1827) Member of Massachusetts state legislature, 1783-85; Delegate to Continental Congress from Massachusetts, 1784-87; mem-ber, U.S. Constitutional Conven-tion, 1787; member of New York state legislature, 1788; U.S. Senator from New York, 1789-96, 1813-25; U.S. Minister to Great Britain, 1796-1803, 1825-26; candidate for Vice President of the United States, 1804, 1808; candidate for President of the United States, 1816.
John Alsop King (1788-1867) Member of New York state assembly, 1819-21, 1832, 1838-40; member of New York State Senate 1st District, 1823; U.S. Representative from New York 1st District, 1849-51; governor of New York, 1857-59.
Union Field Cemetery
Samuel Dickstein (1885-1954) Born in Lithuania, member of New York State Assembly, 1919-22; U.S. Representative from New York, 1923-45 (12th District 1923-45, 19th District 1945); state court judge, 1945. According to old Soviet records found in the mid-1990s, he was a paid agent of the KGB.
Mt. Zion Cemetery
(Morris) Michael Edelstein (1888-1941) Born in Poland, U.S. representative from New York 14th District, 1940-41. Died in the cloakroom of the House of Representatives, in the Capitol, Washington D.C., after completing the delivery of a speech on the floor of the House, June 4, 1941.
St. John’s Cemetery
John F. Hylan (1868-1936) Mayor of New York,1918-25.
Lester David Volk (1884-1962) Member of New York state assembly, 1912; served in the U.S. Army during World War I; U.S. Representative from New York 10th District, 1920-23; defeated (Republican), 1922.
• Halloween masks for children ages six through 12 at Steinway Branch Public Library, 21-45 31st St., Long Island City. Ghosts, bats, pumpkins are present in these masks for holiday fun on Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. Pre-registration is required. Call 728-1965.
• Hallowfest at Cross Island YMCA will be Saturday, Oct. 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. is Family Time for a light spooky night and from 9:30 to 11 p.m. teens older than 12 can enter if they dare at 238-10 Hillside Ave. Free to all YMCA members and guests.
• Frightening tales of horror and terror for ages seven through 12 at the Corona Branch Public Library, 38-23 104th St. on Oct. 27. Scary stories as told by “The Dustman,” who returns to the Corona Library in time for Halloween fun. He’ll present mystifying illusions. Pre-registration is required. Call 426-2844 for time and to register.
• Queens Center will have a special treat for shoppers on Tuesday, Oct. 31. Beginning at 3 p.m., the first 5,000 shoppers will receive a free Halloween picture frame magnet. Customers are also invited to visit their web site at www.ShopQueensCenter.com for a special trick. They’re giving away $25 Queens Center gift certificates to the first 20 visitors that answer that Halloween riddle correctly.
The Flushing YMCA is decorating its facilities for Halloween. Halloween at the YMCA will be celebrated on Oct. 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. Planned activities include a haunted house more frightening than last year, contests such as best costume, arts and crafts, music, dancing, movie time for young and old, trick or treating in the building – and a safe place to celebrate when pumpkins glow and kids masquerade. Admission fee is $5 per child age four to 16 and $2 per adult. Children under the age of three are admitted free of charge. Space is limited to the first 400 people. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Flushing YMCA, located at 138-46 Northern Blvd. or call 961-6880.
• Halloween costume party for ages six through 11 in the Story Room of the Flushing Library, 41-17 Main St. Come as your favorite ghost or ghoul and get in the spirit of the spooky night on Oct. 28 at 11 a.m. Pre-registration required. Call 661-1212.
• Halloween family concert, complete with a costume contest for kids, will be held Sunday, Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. in Colden Center for the Performing Arts at Queens College. For tickets and/or information, call 786-8880 or visit www.queenssymphony.org.
• On Halloween, Tuesday, Oct. 31, Count Dracula plays host to a gathering of ghosts, witches and other scary folks at the Queens Botanical Garden’s sixth annual Haunted Garden, from 3 to 5 p.m. Visitors will be greeted by the famous vampire and other denizens of the dark, while touring a “Garden of Ghouls,” a witch’s herb garden, and a haunted greenhouse filled with eerie sights and sounds.
Admission to the Haunted Garden, which includes a tour, workshop and snacks, is $3. School groups wishing to visit the Haunted Garden earlier in the day must register with the Education Department by Oct. 26. To register, call 886-3800, ext. 230.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
• “Boo at the Zoo” in the Queens Zoo on Oct. 28 and 29 will include a visit to the “Endangered and Extinct Species Graveyard, where the Grim Reaper and other costumed characters illustrate the fragility of our animal friends and the importance of conservation.
Located at 53-51 111th St., the Queens Wildlife Center is open daily April through October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and to 5:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays. November through March, hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $2.50 for adults, $1.25 for seniors (65+) and 50 cents for children (three to 12). Children under three are admitted free. For more information, call 271-1500 or visit their web site at www.wcs.org.
• “Medevil” Madness – Queens Recreation is hosting its annual Halloween event at the Passerelle Building, next to the USTA. This year the event has a Renaissance/Medieval Times theme and will include arts and crafts, games of skill, music by Endless Melodies, giveaways, goody bags, giant inflatable slide and moaon bounce, pumpkin patch, puppet show, storytelling by Catfish Jim, special guest performances, vendors, a hayride around the park, face painting, refreshments, and, of course, the haunted on Saturday, Oct. 28 from 1 to 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 29 from 2 to 7 p.m.
• A festival with spooky pumpkin patch, crafts, decorate a pumpkin, face painting, costume making and contest, music, story teller, free rollerblading and more will be held in the picnic group of Forest Park from 1 to 5 p.m. on Oct. 29. At 3 p.m., Forest Park’s first pet costume contest will be held. Refreshments available. For more information, call 235-4100.
• Create a paper puppet for Halloween for children in grades two through six, who will learn from Patricia Eljaiek-Tousius how to assemble a skeleton puppet, using paper and per fasteners. Add paper cutout hats and clothing to the puppets. North Forest Park Branch Public Library, 97-27 Metropolitan Ave., Forest Hills. Pre-registration is required. Call 261-5512.
• The community Halloween parade will step off at 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 at 37th Avenue and 88th Street. School groups and families will march in costume with treats for all ages at the end of the line of march.
• Frightening tales of horror and terror for ages seven through 12 at the Maspeth Branch Public Library, 69-70 Grand Ave. on Oct. 31 at 4 p.m. Scary stories as told by “The Dustman,” who returns to the Corona Library in time for Halloween fun. He’ll present mystifying illusions. Pre-registration is required. Call 639-5228.
Make The Ghoulish Season Safe
As thousands of children prepare to haunt Queens neighborhoods for Halloween, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jane S. Hoffman has warned parents to look out for safety hazards that may also be cloaked in disguise.
“Amid the Pikachus, Harry Potters, and Batmans seeking treats, a very real danger lurks. Across the nation, approximately 1,300 Trick -Or- Treaters in costumes suffer burns, bruises, and other injuries every year,” Hoffman said. “If parents and children follow some basic safety tips, ghosts, goblins and ghouls are the only things they should have to worry about this Halloween.”
Goblins and ghouls are showing up
on front lawns around the borough,
like at this Fresh Meadows house, as
Queens prepares for some frightful fun.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) examined Halloween costumes and various accessories in order to uncover the dangers hidden behind these Trick -Or- Treat staples. DCA tests concluded that materials such as nylon and polyester, labeled as ‘flame resistant’, can ignite and burn. Hoffman urged parents to choose costumes carefully.
Parents should not outfit children in easy flammable materials like cotton. Children should only wear costumes or accessories that are labeled ‘flame resistant’ or are made of flame resistant fibers like nylon, polyester, or wool. Hoffman, however, cautioned parents that children in these costumes are still susceptible to burns.
The Department also warned against certain masks and wigs that restrict a child’s vision and breathing.
Hoffman offered the following safety reminders:
• Beware of potential fire hazards. Though a costume may read flame resistant, many materials will still ignite. Use caution when outfitting children with costumes made of 100 percent cotton (typically hand made items), as they are particularly susceptible to burning.
• Be sure masks do not obstruct a child’s vision or impair breathing. As an alternative to masks, parents should consider make-up or face paint. Be aware, however, that some make-up can irritate a child’s skin. Purchase safe, hypoallergenic make-up. If a child is wearing a mask, have the child avoid wearing it when traveling from house to house and make sure vision is not obstructed or breathing is not impaired.
• Trim costumes with reflective tape. When possible, outfit children with costumes that are bright and reflective.
• Carry a flashlight. Children should carry flashlights when they go trick-or-treating to help them see more easily and to make it easier for motorists to see them.
• To avoid tripping, make sure costumes do not drag on the ground and wear sensible shoes. Make sure that shoes fit well and costumes are short enough to prevent falling or entanglement. Also, capes, hats and scarves should be tied securely to avoid getting caught in elevator doors. Avoid riding bicycles as costumes could get tangled in the spokes
• Do not carry real looking toy guns. It is illegal for stores to sell toy guns that resemble the real thing. Toy guns must have a visible orange strip and must be topped with an orange cap to insure a toy is not mistaken for a real weapon.
• Costume swords or knives should be made of soft, flexible material.
• Examine all treats before eating. Instruct children to bring the candy home to be inspected before eating it.
• Children should always be accompanied by an adult.
• Teach children how to call 9-1-1: If they have an emergency or become lost, remind children that 9-1-1 can be dialed free of charge from any payphone.
Ghosts & Ghoulies & Things That Go Bump
In The Queens Night
• The restless spirit at Flushing Town Hall … is he actually the Impressario of the Hall, who vowed to return to its stage after fighting in the war?
• Bowne House… the spooky spectre wandering the halls of Queens’ oldest house is said to be none other than the spirit of the master of the house – John Bowne.
• Houdini… Master magician Harry vowed to try to rise from his Queens gravesite on the night of All Hallows Eve, if anyone can do it, Harry can.
• Hammerstein… Roger rides along the roadways of Queens on Halloween, grieving over the loss of his burnt-out mansion. He travels in style – why how else? In a “surrey with the fringe on-top?”
• Three vampires are alive and well in Queens – explore these facts and more at the Elmhurst based world Vampire Research Center.
• Louis Armstrong… passersby have recounted tales of soulful, wailing sounds emarating from a horn atop Satchmo’s gravesite in a Flushing graveyard.
• King Manor… Ghosties and ghoulies and things that go “bump” in the night rule the manor on All Hallows Eve.