Everyone in Brooklyn remembers the Brooklyn Dodgers, even if they never saw a game, and even if the memories aren’t their own. I wasn’t alive when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn, not even close. But as I walked around the Ebbets Field Apartments complex, where the team’s stadium once stood, I felt I was on hallowed ground. The aura of America’s original baseball team was strong.
Especially on this, the anniversary of their one World Series victory in 1955.
It’s quiet in the Ebbets Field courtyard in the morning. It’s a quiet I know well. Until recently, I worked as a photographer with the Oakland Athletics. Before gates opened, I would wander the stadium, enjoying the vast quiet, listening intently for nothing. At the Brooklyn apartment complex, the quiet sounds like baseball, before the fans arrive.
Every resident I run into is willing, happy in fact, to talk to me. But few have actual memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yeah, of course they know their apartment building was home to Ebbets Field. Some went to a couple games. Others played stickball in the streets, back when Brooklyn was a baseball borough.
The apartment’s front office hasn’t opened yet, and tenants, including 49-year resident of the complex Bessie Watson, are getting antsy. Watson used to go to games with her husband James, though she preferred eating hot dogs and napping to watching the game. James, she said, was an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan and even got the chance to see his team beat the Yankees in the 1955 Series. “I was there,” Watson says. “But I was sleeping and eating. I wasn’t too interested in it.” She laughs and hurries back into the building to get out of the cold.
I meet John Brathwaite, who grew up in Panama where him and his friends played stickball on a beach, with a tennis ball and a broomstick. When he moved to America in 1959, baseball was a connection to home. He doesn’t miss the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had already moved to Los Angeles two years before. But his father, who immigrated to the U.S. years earlier, was a fan.
“He was very disappointed,” Brathwaite says of his father’s reaction to the Dodgers’ move. “It was one of his life moments. That gave him something to do back in those days. He was very disappointed because LA is a good ways from Brooklyn.”
When the Dodgers left, his father needed a team. He wasn’t going to abandon baseball — and he wasn’t going to take up with the Yankees — so he fell for the Mets. But being a Mets fan wasn’t the same.
Nearby, at the Western Union office, I run into a woman named Robyn, who prefers not to tell me her last name — a Yankee fan, perhaps? No way. She’s lived in Ebbets Field Apartments for 10 years and remains a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. She makes sure I see a brick from Ebbets Field posted above the teller’s window. Robyn insists she knows everything about the Dodgers, and, if I’d accompany her on a few errands, she’ll tell me what I need to know. Instead, she takes me to McDonald’s, on the corner of Sullivan Place and McKeever Place. As we walk away from the Western Union and along Bedford Avenue, Robyn points to a flagpole in front of the complex on Bedford Avenue. “The outfield,” she says.
We sit in a plastic booth at the McDonald’s, an unofficial Brooklyn Dodgers museum, just around the corner from the apartment complex. There are photographs of Jackie Robinson and his teammates from that championship team. “Everybody would talk about the Dodgers, even in church,” Robyn says. “You’re supposed to be talking about God, but you’re talking about the Dodgers.”
Over the years, fewer and fewer can recall a time when to live in Brooklyn meant knowing all about Oisk, Pee Wee, Campy, Skoonj and the Duke, without further explanation. “The older ones are dying out and the younger ones are wearing Yankee hats,” Robyn says.
The stadium was razed in 1960 and two years later, the Ebbets Field Apartments complex was ready. All that remains to mark what once was is a granite plaque bearing a baseball. A cautionary sign posted on one of the building warns against playing ball on the premises.