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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field of Greens

Air Date: Week of June 12, 1998

It's not every day that your typical New Yorker gets to plant a garden, never mind make a mark on major league baseball at the same time. But, thanks to a New York Mets groundskeeper, that's just what happened recently to W-N-Y-C reporter Amy Eddings. She sent us this reporters' notebook from the "Field of Greens".

Transcript

KNOY: It's not every day that your typical New Yorker gets to plant a garden, never mind make a mark on major league baseball at the same time. But thanks to a New York Mets groundskeeper, that's just what happened recently to WNYC reporter Amy Eddings. She sent us this reporter's notebook from the field of greens.

(Leaf and trash blowers blowing)

EDDINGS: Leaf and trash blowers echo through the empty stands of Shea Stadium, as groundskeeper Chris Murphy and I plot our starting lineup behind the right field wall.

MURPHY: Where do you want to put the watermelons?

EDDINGS: I think they should go in this right here.

MURPHY: So, like, in the front part here?

EDDINGS: Right.

MURPHY: So we'll put the watermelons there. And we'll put the pumpkins in the back?

EDDINGS: Uh huh.

MURPHY: And put the cantaloupes in between. All right, we'll start the pumpkins then, along the fence.

EDDINGS: Along the fence?

MURPHY: Yeah.

EDDINGS: Okay.
I'm helping Mr. Murphy carry on a tradition at Shea. We're planting a vegetable garden in the Mets bullpen. It's an 18 by 20-foot patch of earth several yards away from where the relief pitchers warm up. Mr. Murphy's been a groundskeeper with the Mets for 16 years. Usually he's patching up cleat marks in the infield grass, or painting base lines in the dirt. But last year, when the garden's former caretaker left the ball club, Mr. Murphy stepped up to the plate and hit a horticultural home run.

MURPHY: And people threw me some seeds and I just thought to throw them onto the ground and I was really amazed at how big everything got. I really had no idea that was going to happen.

EDDINGS: And how big did everything get?

MURPHY (laughs): So far it was about 8 feet tall, and the corn was at least 6 feet high. The flowers were actually over, higher than the fence.

(A crowd cheers)

EDDINGS: High enough to be seen on television when cameras would chart the course of a fly ball to right field.

(Crowds continue; a bat cracks and the crowd roars)

EDDINGS: And high enough to block the visiting team's view into the Mets' bullpen. Some opponents suspected foul play. Mark Leider, a relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, says some people thought the Mets had a more than garden variety home field advantage.

(Piped music in the background)

LEIDER: The visiting dugout cannot see whether there's a left-handed pitcher or a right-handed pitcher warming up, so in the dugout you don't know who to get loose, your right-handed swinger or your left-handed swinger. Because you're not sure who's throwing.

EDDINGS: So the Mets ripped out a few corn stalks. Opponents' line of sight was restored, and controversy averted. The towering flowers and waving corn brought the garden into the public eye last year, but it's been a Mets tradition for a while. Joe Pignatano, a former Mets bullpen coach, created the garden in 1969. That was the year of the Miracle Mets, when the team unexpectedly defeated the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series.

PIGNATANO: In the bullpen that year, a tomato plant was growing. I nurtured it, and naturally winning the whole ball of wax I figured it was a good omen.

EDDINGS: And he grew more tomato plants in the bullpen the following year. Mr. Pignatano says friends of his on the coaching staff of 2 other teams, the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, started growing tomatoes in their ballparks, too, and they'd compare them. Mr. Pignatano later added radishes, string beans, and zucchini. Small, bushy, unobtrusive plants, not showoffs like corn and sunflowers.

(A hose is turned on)

MURPHY: Gonna give it a good soaking.

(Water spray continues)

EDDINGS: But Chris Murphy thinks the high-rising vegetables bring some life to the right-field wall and give fans something to talk about.

MURPHY: As the season goes on and these things get really big, they'll be sitting in the pub somewhere and somebody will hit a home run and you'll be watching, you'll say, "Hey, those are my sunflowers! I planted those!" (Laughs) And your friends will say, "Aw, you're full of it." "No, no, I really did! Those are mine!" (Laughs)

EDDINGS: Hopefully at the end of the summer, I'll have a basket full of proof. Sunflower seeds, cantaloupes, carrots, sweet corn. That is, if the ball players don't get to them first. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

(Water spray continues)

MURPHY: We got pumpkins. We got some tomatoes. Cantaloupes.

 

 

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