Flynn ends his labour of love

AFTER his 50th season as a groundskeeper for the New York Mets, Leitrim man Pete Flynn hung up his rake yesterday, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before his club’s last game of the baseball season.

During his time tending to the famous field in Queens, the Ballinamore native has seen two World Series and was also present for one of the most famous outdoor concerts of all time, The Beatles at Shea Stadium.

Flynn left Ireland as a 21-year-old in 1960, heading for Canada but quickly moved on to New York in June of 1961.

“I was out of work and I ended up applying for a job at a construction company Allied Maintenance down on West 19th St,” Flynn told the Irish Examiner as he waited for the game against the Cincinnati Reds.

“But not long after that, a friend told me about a job up in the old Polo Grounds. I had done a bit of landscaping in Canada so I went out on the field in March of ‘62.”

The Mets had just begun life as New York’s newest Major League team and they spent their first two seasons at the former home of the New York Giants who moved to San Francisco in the late 1950s.

All the while, Shea Stadium was being built in Flushing, Queens, set to become the home field for the Mets and football’s New York Jets (who left for New Jersey in 1983).

When the Beatles played there in August 1965, it was Flynn’s job to transport them from the stage to behind centre field where an armoured car waited for the band, protecting them from the screaming fans.

Over 40 years later, he would be reunited with Paul McCartney when he chauffered the singer to the Paul Simon concert, the last live music event to be held at the old Shea Stadium before it’s demolition in 2008.

On the field, however, is where Flynn has the fondest memories. There were the ‘Miracle Mets’ of 1969 who went from being one of the worst teams of the ‘68 season to National League and World Series champions.

In 1974, Flynn became the head groundskeeper at Shea, just in time for the famous turf’s most stressful year. With Yankee Stadium being renovated in the Bronx and the new Giants Stadium being built in New Jersey, Shea would play host to four professional teams in 1975, the Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants.

“It was non-stop. There was no grass left by the end of it. We couldn’t get a grip on it at all. That year took a lot out of me.”

In 1986, the stadium witnessed its most electrifying night when the Boston Red Sox were on the verge of ending their long wait for a World Series. But then a ground ball from Mookie Wilson went through the legs of Boston’s first baseman Billy Buckner, sparking a Mets fightback and Buckner’s name going down in baseball infamy.

“That team was excellent. They should have won a couple more titles. But yeah, that was an incredible night at Shea. The atmosphere changed so quickly. It was crazy.”

A resident of Queens Village, his wife passed away eight years ago while he has two daughters and five grandkids, all in the Tri-State area. There are also nieces and nephews back in Dublin.

“I’ll miss working there, I love to work. It is a sad day but it’s time to go. The knees are hurting. The mind says yes but the body says no.”

Picture: New York Mets honour groundskeeper Pete Flynn, second from right, for his 50 years of service during a ceremony before the game against the Cincinnati Reds yesterday

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