The sports turf industry lost a true icon on June 21, as former New York Mets head groundskeeper Pete Flynn passed away at age 79.
Flynn spent over six decades in professional baseball. “Pete helped make our fields one of the best in baseball,” Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. “He took such pride in his work and was a pro’s pro. Tom Seaver always said Shea Stadium’s mound had no equal. That’s a pretty good endorsement.”
Flynn’s long career was really the stuff of legends and his journey to sports turf was certainly a unique one.
According to a 2008 Newsday article, Flynn (born in Ireland) left a farm in Ireland’s County Leitrim, tried uranium mining in Canada then followed his two sisters to New York. He applied for a job at Allied Maintenance in Manhattan and was hired three days later to work at the Polo Grounds, the home of the Mets in 1962 and 1963. “I started out as a handyman, so I built the advance ticket office with blocks, and I built a storeroom up on the second level,” he told Newsday in 2008. When someone was needed to do grading, Flynn mentioned that he had done a little landscaping in Canada. From that, his sports turf career was born.
He was initially responsible for the mound at the Polo Grounds. Flynn then worked for more than 40 years at Shea Stadium — becoming the Mets head groundskeeper in 1974 — and finally at Citi Field, the current home of the Mets. He retired as the club’s head groundskeeper in 2001, but continued as part of the grounds crew until 2011.
Flynn was elected into the MLB Groundskeepers Hall of Fame in 2015. Throughout his career, Flynn provided Catholic schools with grounds advice and regularly donated tools. In 2008, Flynn was elected into the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame.
He was also groundskeeper for the New York Jets when they played at Shea Stadium from 1964 to 1983, and for the New York Yankees and the New York Giants in 1975 (when the two clubs also played at Shea Stadium). “I didn’t have a day off for like seven or eight months [in 1975],” Flynn told the New York Daily News in 2008.
When you spend almost 50 years in a profession, you’re bound to see some amazing things. Flynn saw —and did — a lot at Shea Stadium.
How about driving the Beatles around in an armored truck during their famous 1965 concert? He did that.
How about attending Pope John Paul II’s 1979 mass? He did that. “It poured all morning, but the minute his motorcade came in, the clouds disappeared, the sun came out,” Flynn remembered in the New York Daily News. “It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”
How about working Billy Joel’s 2008 concert, before Shea was demolished? He did that.
How about dealing with crazed, overzealous New York fans? He did that, too (quite often). For example, take a situation in 1986, when the Mets clinched the National League East title on their way to their second World Series championship. After the game, fans rushed the field and ripped up the sod as souvenirs. “The whole field looks like it’s been bombed,” Flynn told The New York Times. “It won’t be 100 percent,” he added, “but we’ll put it back together, and we’ll have the game tomorrow.” Flynn and his crew worked through the night, and the next day’s game was played without any issues – the mark of a dedicated and skilled sports turf professional.
Flynn is survived by his two daughters, Eileen Flynn and MaryAnne Poeschl, along with his two sisters and five grandchildren.