A generation has grown up in Brooklyn without Ebbets Field. So long has that mystical park been extinct that a man who helped make it unique, a man who spent many of the merriest moments of his life there, has trouble finding exactly where it was.
"Used to have trolleys here," Brother Lou Soriano was mumbling as one turn after another this afternoon seemed to bring us no closer to Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place. He looked at the street sign. "Nostrand Avenue trolley. Now they have buses."
In his 76 years, Brother Lou has driven nearly every form of transportation: trolleys, buses, cabs. The glitter in his middle age -- and it was considerable -- came from driving opponents of the Brooklyn Dodgers crazy. And umpires. And serious musicians.
You've probably waved goodbye to 40 some years back if the Dodger Sym-phony brings a smile. Brother Lou was its conductor, though that gives too formal a ring to six guys who conducted themselves outrageously. They were part of what made Ebbets Field special, zanies that included Hilda Chester and her cowbell and Eddie Bottan and his police whistle.
The Dodgers were the first America's Team, with those daffy names that made some of us farmland hicks assume Brooklyn was a foreign country: Oisk, The Dook of Flatbush, Jolly Cholly. They were the "Peepul's Cherce." And when Walter O'Malley moved them to Los Angeles in 1958, the country lost its sporting innocence.
A Dodger-Yankee World Series is not quite complete without a trip to where Ebbets Field flourished and an apartment complex now squats. To have Brother Lou along brings even more pleasure. It is best done in daylight and with care, for the neighborhood seems dominated by gutted buildings, junk cars and broken men.
The Sym-phony began in 1938, as a lark, and was called the Dodger Band until Red Barber thought what it played was not music and deserved to be labeled as such.
"We were coming home from a picnic with our families," said Brother Lou of the day the Sym-phony first played in Ebbets Field, "and it was so nice a day when we passed the park we went in. Instruments and all. People said: 'Give us a tune.' So we gave 'em a tune.' "
And kept playing and playing. Free.
"At first," he said, "we even paid our way in. Or snuck in, with the frankfurter men or the ice men. We'd pull our caps down and say: 'We're with them.' Then we'd lower a rope down and pull our instruments up and into the park."
It was a six-man group in bum's garb, trumpet, trombone, bass and snare drums, clarinet and cymbals. It was more fun than melodic.
"If we coulda' read music, we'da went places," he said. "When we played for nothing, we sounded good. Soon as we asked for money, we stunk. Know what I mean?"
He has lost none of his twinkle. Though he is not a member of a religious order, everyone has called him Brother Lou since his work for the church decades ago. If you ask for Mr. Soriano at his favorite hangout these days, the Swinging Sixties rec center, you get nothing in reply but a blank expression. If you ask for Brother Lou, joy instantly fills the area and a small man in a blue jacket and pork-pie hat half-limps in directly.
Half of the original six are gone now, Brother Lou volunteers. Only Jo Jo Delio, the midget who played cymbals with his knees, and he are healthy. And a heart condition forced Brother Lou into retirement the year before the Dodgers won their only World Series in Brooklyn.
What a binge that '55 triumph over the Yanks brought on.
"Marchin' all over the streets," Brother Lou said. "Two or three days in a row. People sayin': 'The war's really over.' Sometimes somebody would come up to us, give us $50 and say: 'Just give us a tune.'
He still is astonished that MGM once gave the group $500 each to appear at a ritzy hotel in costume and walk through a room while playing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" and "Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here." Such a salary for a gig that never left the cutting room!
With a capacity of fewer than 32,000 seats, Ebbets Field allowed the Sym-phony to be heard.
"Half the time we never bothered with what was happening on the field," he said. "But the fans could hear us. Not like in the stadiums now. We went to Shea once. Nothing. Nobody except alongside us could hear us."
Brother Lou has seen his share of thrills and been hit by more than his share of tomatoes. His joking has drawn on-the-field acknowledgment from such as Eddie Stanky. His loyalty always was with the Dodgers; sometimes his wallet favored the Giants.
In July 1951, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians threatened to picket Ebbets Field. It assumed the Sym-phony must be getting paid and a cut. So the Dodgers staged "Music Unappreciation Night," 30,000 people brought kazoos, harmonicas and the like and serenaded the union silly.
"We knocked MacArthur off the front page," Brother Lou said.
He admitted the group did get paid once. In exchange for tickets to the '41 Series, the Sym-phony agreed to play the Pepsi jingle in Ebbets Field.
"Took us six hours to learn it," Brother Lou recalled. "Red Barber would hang a mike down from his broadcast booth, so we played the Pepsi song right under it. The Gillette people were so mad. They'd paid all that (sponsorship) money, and all anybody heard (over the radio) was Pepsi."
The Sym-phony marched proudly out of the Polo Grounds the day Bobby Thomson hit the playoff home run off Ralph Branca. A few weeks ago, Brother Lou and Thomson appeared at a bring-baseball-back-to-Brooklyn rally, and the ornery fan needled the slugger:
"If that game had been in Ebbets Field instead of that cigar box, it'd been a single."
In his apartment more than a half-hour drive from the Ebbets Field Apartments hangs a plaque the Dodgers gave the Sym-phony in September of '51, "for 14 years of undiminished devotion to all things Brooklyn."
A New York state senator, Thomas Bartosiewicz, has been trying for months to get passage of a bill authorizing $200,000 for the creation of a Brooklyn Sports Authority Commission. That group would study building a domed stadium to lure major-league baseball back to Brooklyn.
Brother Lou, a desperate Dodgers' fan even after they broke his heart, isn't wild about the idea.
We had found where Ebbets Field was, found what is there depressing and were driving along Bedford Avenue when Brother Lou thought about the plan and said: "Where the hell are they gonna get the money? The city of New York ain't got a dime and they're gonna start building stadiums!"
He has six seats from the old baseball palace and keeps them painted. He will not start another parade if his Dodgers win another Series.
"Where am I gonna get the players?" he asked. "Guys I could only pay $25 can get $45. And at 76 with a heart condition, I gotta be careful these days myself."