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World View: In search of a lost ballpark

June 21, 2012|By Imran Vittachi
  • Arnold Hano, 90, a Laguna Beach resident, is a long-time sports writer and author of books about baseball. He will receive a prestigious award given out by the Baseball Reliquary.
Arnold Hano, 90, a Laguna Beach resident, is a long-time… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

It took me a while to find home plate.

I'm an explorer who loves to discover the world's great cities on foot. During a trip to New York earlier this month — and like an archaeologist searching for clues to a lost civilization — I took such a walk through upper Manhattan.

I had no map or compass as I set out to explore traces of a razed piece of baseball history, but my determination pointed me toward it. Little did I know then that my expedition would also lead me to Arnold Hano's doorstep in Laguna Beach.

No, my destination wasn't the site of the old Yankee Stadium just across the Harlem River in the borough of the Bronx — although, I admit, I did cross the Macombs Dam Bridge to inspect what had become of "The House that Ruth Built." The wrecking ball had demolished that ballpark in recent years to make room for a billion-dollar palace. The new Yankee Stadium arrogantly bears the name of the national pastime's most storied franchise in capital letters engraved in stone and painted over in gold.

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Setting out from the apartment at 150th Street near Amsterdam Avenue where I was staying in Manhattan's Harlem district, I went looking for the site of another grand old ballpark, the riverfront Polo Grounds at 155th Street. That's where New York's baseball Giants played from 1880 through 1957, when the franchise moved to San Francisco.

As I would discover, the younger, upstart Yankees played at Polo Grounds from 1913 through 1922, when they crossed the river to move into the first incarnation of Yankee Stadium. The Mets, the franchise that replaced both the Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers and whose colors infused the orange and blue trim on those departed ballclubs' uniforms, played at the Polo Grounds in their inaugural season in 1962, as well as in 1963 before moving to Shea Stadium in Queens.

I gleaned this information from reading the bronze plaque that I eventually found, and which marked the approximate location of home plate at the Polo Grounds.

The nondescript plaque was easy to miss. It hung from a concrete column at the base of a building that made me think of a prison cell block without bars. The stadium, razed in 1964, nowadays is home to a public housing project known as the Polo Grounds Towers.

The sight depressed me. I had made my way into the complex at the foot of Coogan's Bluff after descending a long staircase, which reeked of leaking sewer water, and weaving through the maze of ugly apartment towers.

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