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A trek grows in Brooklyn: Visiting old Dodger baseball haunts
While Los Angeles celebrates the arrival of the Dodgers 50 years ago (beach balls! vigorous organ music!), Brooklyn, N.Y., faces the butt end of that anniversary.
This month in 1958, Brooklynites found themselves facing their first 20th century spring without pro baseball, without a bum to curse, without a conversational starting point to unite races and classes. Even now, some people are still telling that joke about the Brooklynite who, left alone in a room with a gun, two bullets, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, realized he would need to shoot O'Malley twice, to be sure.
The audience for that joke gets smaller and smaller. If you crunch the U.S. Census numbers, as the New York Times did recently, you find that more than 85% of today's Brooklyn residents were unborn or outside the U.S. when the Dodgers fled.
But baseball and nostalgia, like Hodges, Gilliam, Reese and Robinson in 1955, tend to travel together. If, in this anniversary year, you find yourself in Brooklyn and daydreaming of guys named Snider and Campanella and Newcombe and Furillo, there are people and places that can help you. Just don't tell them where you came from.
* Ebbets Field Apartments, 1720 Bedford Ave. From 1913 until demolition in 1960, this gritty block held Ebbets Field, the snug and storied home of the Dodgers. Now it's a dull, sand-colored set of rental towers. And truth be told, the people here probably won't help you much -- it's a tough neighborhood and you're a stranger. When Sam Anderson of New York magazine nosed around last year, he spotted a sign that said "NO BALL PLAYING." Yet this is where Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues in April 1947 (hence the nearby Jackie Robinson School, a.k.a. P.S. 375), and where Sandy Koufax won his first major league game in 1955. The Dodgers played 45 seasons here (and this year will be their 47th season at Dodger Stadium).
* Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont St. [(718) 222-4111; www.brooklynhistory.org)] Inside this four-story brick building (which dates to 1881), the Dodgers are still a hot topic, right up there with the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island and Walt Whitman. Archivist Leilani Dawson reports that the society has Dodger books, a digital image collection, team yearbooks, World Series programs, scorecards that date to the 1890s, a vintage Jackie Robinson comic book, architectural plans for Ebbets Field and an archive of clippings from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (now also gone but available online). If you make an appointment, you can sift through just about all of it. Or you could step outside and start accosting likely codgers. "There are still many die-hard fans here," Dawson said. Open Wednesdays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. Adult admission: $6.
* Peter Luger Steakhouse, 178 Broadway [(718) 387-7400; www.peterluger.com] goes back to 1887, and the local paper (the New York Times) says that the Dodgers used to fill up on steak there in the 1940s.
* Junior's Restaurant, 386 Flatbush Ave. Extension [(718) 852-5257; www.juniorscheesecake.com] goes back to 1950. Maybe the Dodgers frequented the place, maybe they didn't. Either way, locals say, you should order the cheesecake. Dodgers memorabilia in Junior's includes a pair of seats from Ebbets Field. Dodger players "did come here," says Alan Rosen, third-generation owner of the restaurant. "I believe they favored the bar side of the restaurant. We'll leave it at that."
* Farrell's Bar & Grill, 215 Prospect Park W. [(718) 788-8779)] opened in 1933, the year after the team changed its name from the Robins to the Dodgers. (Brooklynites used to dodge trolley cars to cross major streets.) Farrell's, still popular with cops and firefighters, serves beer in foam containers, $4.25 for a quart.
* Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza [(718) 230-2762; www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org]. The library's Brooklyn Collection, open Tuesdays through Saturdays (hours vary), is gathered in a single room. Resources include two file drawers full of old Dodgers photos, along with a few signed baseballs, old cards, ticket stubs and other memorabilia. If you want to see the photos, call first for an appointment. (Probably better to schedule that visit before the visit to Farrell's.)
* KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, 1904 Surf Ave. [(718) 449-8497; www.brooklyncyclones.com]. Since 2001 the Cyclones have been a Class A minor league team for the Mets -- the first profession baseball team Brooklyn has had since the Dodgers left. Their home field (capacity is about 10,000; sellouts are frequent) is on Coney Island, not far from the beloved wooden 1927 Cyclone roller coaster. And their park includes a Brooklyn Baseball Gallery full of old Dodger artifacts. The Cyclones' 38-game 2008 home schedule begins June 17 against the Yankees (the Staten Island Yankees, that is) and ends Sept. 6. Adult admission: $7 to $14. The Brooklyn Baseball Gallery is open before and after games and by appointment other days. Admission for adults: $1.
For more old Brooklyn baseball information, check Michael Shapiro's book "The Last Good Season," Roger Kahn's book "The Boys of Summer" or the coffee table volume "Through a Blue Lens: The Brooklyn Dodgers Photographs of Barney Stein, 1937-1957," by Dennis D'Agostino and Bonnie Crosby (with forewords by Carl Erskine and Peter O'Malley).
For more old Brooklyn baseball atmosphere, listen to Frank Sinatra's 1973 recording of the Joe Raposo song "There Used to Be a Ballpark." For more information about visiting Brooklyn, go to www.visitbrooklyn.org.