By 1968, at 7 years old, I had became a huge fan of the New York Mets. That affliction was passed along by my mother, an old Brooklyn Dodgers fan who adopted the Mets on the day they were born in 1962. The Mets were, in a way, her 8th and final child. To this day, I credit the sports writers from that time — particularly Dick Young — for turning me into a reader. I remain grateful that ESPN wasn’t around in those days; I had to read to find out about the previous game, studying the box score, reveling in Bill Gallo’s cartoons, and working my way through the articles in the morning newspaper. We got the Daily News and The Long Island Press.
When it came time for me to write the first Jigsaw Jones book in 1997 (there are 42 in all, more than 11 million sold), I had to fill Jigsaw’s classroom with characters. So I named one Joey Pignattano, after the longtime Mets bullpen coach, Joe Pignatano. The old coach and former catcher passed recently at age 92. He served with the Mets from 1968 to 1981, working under managers Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Roy McMillan, Joe Frazier, and Joe Torre.
Joe Pignatano was famous for growing tomato plants in the Shea Stadium bullpen.
“In 1969 I discovered a wild tomato plant in the bullpen and nurtured it the rest of the season,” he remembered. “We got some tomatoes off it, but most important we won the whole thing. After that, I kept up the garden as long as I was with the Mets as a good luck charm.”
Yes, 1969 was a good year to be a Mets fan. And amazingly, I was there at Shea for Game 5 of the World Series. I watched my hero, pitcher Jerry Koosman, throw the last ball and fabulous Cleon Jones in left field cradle it for the final out. Whew. Game over, miracle secured. And to think I’d had a few tears fall earlier during that game, when we were down 3-0 to the dreaded Orioles.
Rest in peace, Joe. I hope you didn’t mind my little tribute. And if I didn’t say it before: thank you.
Art from Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space. That’s Joey Pignattano and Danika Starling. Illustrated by R.W. Alley.