New York Giants fans still remember the days of Willie Mays, pictured here during a dust-up with the Pirates in 1955. Many remain fans of the San Francisco Giants because of the team’s New York roots. (Ernie Sisto/New York Times)

New York Giants fans still remember the days of Willie Mays, pictured here during a dust-up with the Pirates in 1955. Many remain fans of the San Francisco Giants because of the team’s New York roots. (Ernie Sisto/New York Times)

Giants bring winning ways, warm memories to New York City

For many, love of Willie Mays has become a family tradition

By Lincoln Mitchell

Special to The Examiner

The Giants took the best record in baseball to Queens this week, looking to stay sharp against a decidedly dull Mets team. San Francisco left town with a sweep, pleasing many in their old hometown.

In a weird way, New York is still a Giants town.

As I have for many years, I trekked out to the ballpark to see my Giants, which brought up some memories, both good and bad. I’ll never forget the time Bobby Jones shut out the Giants in the 2000 National League Division Series. Or when Madison Bumgarner shut out the Mets in the 2016 play-in games. That remains the most exciting game I’ve ever attended.

On this year’s pilgrimage, I arrived at Citi Field pumped up with pride. These Giants appear to be something special. But not everyone’s buying it.

The series opener on Tuesday was a matchup between Sammy Long and Tylor Megill. As the game began, my friend, who has worked in professional baseball and is very knowledgeable about the game, commented “I can’t believe this team is ahead of the Dodgers.” He meant it in a good-natured way, but his view is not out of step with many national observers.

On the seventh pitch of the game, Brandon Belt blasted a 431-foot home run to straightaway center. I asked my friend if that helped explain things. By the end of the second inning, the Giants were leading 3-0 and Long was looking sharp. The opening game of the series quickly became one only a Giants fan could love, and I did.

And I wasn’t alone. As usual, Giants fans were all around the ballpark, ranging from youngsters who followed the championships to recent Bay Area transplants to old-timers who still carry a torch for the old New York team before it headed West.

I particularly appreciated the young woman sitting two rows in front of us. In the fourth inning, Alex Dickerson hit a hard ground ball to first baseman Pete Alonso who fielded it cleanly, but could do nothing with it because the Mets pitcher forgot to cover the bag. As the Mets’ beleaguered manager Casey Stengel put it back in 1962, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Instead, I overheard the woman sitting in front of us tell her Mets-loving partner, in a tone that was part earnest and part gloating, “That was a bad play.”

On the subway ride back from the ballpark that night, my car was about 40% Giants fans. It was nice to be among the tribe.

While some of the Giants fans here are younger people who are from the Bay Area, went to school there or worked there for a few years, a lot have a much deeper relationship with the Giants. Scattered around the ballpark were older Giants fans whose countenance and accents made it clear they were New Yorkers.

Paul Ellis-Graham, 67, said he fell in love with the team “in 1962. The Giants were playing the Dodgers (in a three-game playoff). Willie (Mays) became the hero that won the series for the Giants and ever since then I was hooked… Willie Mays was my idol growing up.”

For Gary Mintz, 60, and Dave Lippman, 58, being a Giants fan was tied to family. Mintz got his passion for the Giants from his father. “My dad was a huge Giants fan when they played in New York. Loved Willie Mays, Mel Ott. I became a baseball fan in 1969 and, wanting to be like my dad, started following the Giants. … His love of the Giants was passed on to me.”

Lippman’s fan credentials go back over a century. “My grandfather… was introduced to the Giants in 1908 at the Polo Grounds… He watched Christy Mathewson fire a three-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds and was hooked for life. It went down three generations.”

It is an axiom of New York baseball that fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and their children and grandchildren, are still angry about the move and therefore hate the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of the Brooklyn faithful have become Mets fans. But Giants fans were much more likely to stick with the team after the move.

For Mintz, the explanation for this was simple.

“It was Willie Mays. That’s why you have 70- and 80-year-old men coming to Citi Field here — their love for Willie Mays. A lot of them stayed San Francisco fans.” Mintz went on to discuss how Mays met with the members of the New York Giants Preservation Society — of which Mintz is president — after the Giants won the World Series in 2014. “He met with us privately and these grown men were crying… He walked in and everybody’s standing up. That was their guy. …They did not see an 85-year-old man… They saw a 25-year-old kid with his hat flying off.”

By Thursday, Giants fans in eastern Queens almost outnumbered the Mets loyalists.

Sweeping a mediocre Mets squad may not be a great accomplishment on its own, but it is the kind of thing good teams need to do.

Tuesday night was a rout where the Giants dominated, but the other two games were decided by one run. Wednesday was a sloppy affair while Thursday’s game was much more crisply played by both teams. The Giants won both by scores of 3-2 to retain their lead over the Dodgers who seem to win every night.

It was a good week for the Giants and their New York fans, whether they are young people who grew up in San Francisco and live here now or, like Mintz, Lippman and a few others I chatted with, New Yorkers carrying on family traditions.

Lincoln Mitchell grew up in San Francisco and has written numerous books and articles about history and baseball in The City. He teaches in Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. For more of Lincoln’s work please visit his website or follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.

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