Even today those boyhood memories are vivid. "On some nights when I didn't camp out, I would get up every two hours to help my father move the sprinklers around the field," says Jerry, now the branch manager of a post office in Fort Lauderdale. "My father used to send me into the dugouts sometimes to turn hoses on or off. It was pitch black. I never knew what monsters might be waiting in the darkness." He laughs. "But none ever were."
Daylight brought the athletes, arriving for work. "There were three of us kids who were tolerated by the players," says Jerry, "though I was the only one who actually lived there. Me, Chris [son of Giant skipper Leo] Durocher and Dale [son of star pitcher Larry] Jansen. We wore New York Giants uniforms, just like the batboys. We had the run of the park. If we wanted to go somewhere we'd take one of the many underground tunnels and pop out of a manhole. We'd stand behind the batting cage and watch the pitchers. Then we'd work out with the players and shag flies in the outfield. There was only one place we knew not to go: the clubhouse after Durocher had slammed the door. That meant he was about to yell at his players."
Jerry was particularly close to pitcher Jim Hearn, but it was slugger Johnny Mize who was his boyhood hero. "I wore number 15 on my uniform, same as Mize, before they sold him to the Yankees. After he left, I still kept his number." Then there were the retired Hall of Famers who used to pass by: Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell. Mays arrived in 1951 as a frightened rookie. Then in 1952 there came a 28-year-old rookie with an unorthodox pitch, Hoyt Wilhelm. He and Jerry took a liking to each other.
"Hoyt made me a whiz on my high school baseball team," Jerry says. "He taught me how to throw a knuckleball."
As the condition of the playing field improved under Schwab's scrupulous care, so did the Giants under Durocher. There was the miracle pennant in 1951, then the heady world championship in 1954. Schwab received a full share of the World Series money that year, plus a Series ring. But by then the team was starting to unravel. Irvin retired. Durocher quit. Thomson, Al Dark and Whitey Lockman were all traded.
At the same time, the neighborhood began to change, and the concrete-and-steel structure of the Polo Grounds, erected in 1911, began to creak. Inevitably, talk centered on sites for a new ballpark in New York. It all must have been terribly unsettling for the Schwab family. It was their home that people wanted to abandon.
"It would be hard to take if the Giants ever moved to another park," Matty Schwab commented in 1956. "Even if I found a place to live right across the street, I'd still feel like a commuter."
With no new park forthcoming in New York, Stoneham sent Schwab, among others, west to scout prospective playing fields. When the Giants did decide on another place to live, it was clear across the continent in San Francisco.
On Sept. 29, 1957, with some of the Polo Grounds' greats—Larry Doyle, Rube Marquard, Hubbell, Mrs. John J. McGraw—present, the last ball game was played in the old park. Dusty Rhodes hit a ball into the grandstand and scored the final Giant run in the Polo Grounds, but eighth-place Pittsburgh still won 9-1. Fittingly, it was a somber, overcast day. And the end, as Schwab had predicted, was hard to take. "I guess I'm dispossessed," Matty said as the gates finally clanked shut.
Well, not quite. The Schwabs went west with the team. Matty presided at Seals Stadium, then at Candlestick, although he couldn't really call either of them home. Jerry, a young man by this time, worked with the grounds crew before moving on to other things. Matty remained with the Giants until 1979, long enough to see Jerry's son become a bat-boy, the fifth generation of Schwabs to work on a big league ball field.