By Joe Rini
When my Dad passed away this past May, among other things, I thought about the role baseball played in our relationship. His love of baseball reached back into the depths of the Depression in the 1930s when many barely had a roof over their heads and extended into the Covid-19 era when many couldn’t leave the house.
He served his country during World War II and married my Mom a few years later. Together, like so many of their generation, they worked hard and raised a Baby Boomer era family of five children amidst periods of turmoil and calm, war and peace, and prosperity and economic uncertainty in the country.
Through it all, baseball was a key feature in our relationship from the time Cleon Jones knelt down to catch the final out of the 1969 World Series to his last weekend of life when Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil argued whether each had seen a rat or a raccoon in the runway outside the Mets dugout. Yet, even as we discussed an upcoming Mets game or last night’s game, there was always the presence of the baseball of his younger days, be it the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ebbets Field, or the more locally famous, Dexter Park, which through him, became real to me.
I wanted to write an article called “New York Baseball, Dad, and Me” but the article kept getting bigger so I have broken up my reflections into five roughly chronological segments beginning when my Dad attended his first game at Ebbets Field to the present day.
Part I, “Frenchy, Johnny, Joe D, Josh, Leo the Lip, Fat Freddie, Van Lingle Mungo” covers his early fandom of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his amateur playing days, and the near forgotten Dexter Park, a stadium that featured barnstorming major leaguers, Negro League teams, and “The Bushwicks.”
Part II, “Glory Days of the Brooklyn Dodgers” covers the highs and lows of rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers at mid-century and their cultural significance to the people of Brooklyn but also finding New York baseball at places other than between the lines on the field.
Part III, “Meeting the Mets” describes how my Dad and I bonded over being fans of the Mets from their World Series winning season of 1969 when I was a first grader through my adulthood covering the team as a columnist.
Part IV, “Final Innings” covers my Dad’s final illness and passing with one last look back at the glory of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
Part V, “Present, Past, and Future” reflects on life since my Dad passed away, and how a game of catch nearly 50 years ago continues in perpetuity.