Porky McDonald has told the story of the disposing of Roy Riegel’s ashes dozens of times.
They were die-hard Mets fans, you see, and when Roy died – on, of all days, the season opener on April 8, 2008 – Porky wanted to do something special to honor their friendship, which had commenced when they were boys going to battle with ball and bat.
“His death hit me hard,” he says.
So, he added, did the fact that the Mets lost to the Phillies that day by 5 to 2.
Porky, a friendly fellow with untamed snow-white hair and a grey goatee who likes to talk about baseball and everything else, got it into his head that the best way to commemorate Roy would be to scatter his ashes in ballparks around the country.
So he got the family to give him some of Roy’s remains – enough to fill a Planters peanuts can – and carried a portion to each game in a plastic Advil bottle.
After the first couple of scatterings, though, Porky realized that the legality and logistics of his plan were too cumbersome to continue.
He was sitting in a bar having an after-game drink when nature called and he hit upon what he calls his humorous home-run idea.
Roy was a plumber (“he was damn good – he fixed the sink in the bar in my apartment three times,” Porky says) – so why not flush his remains down ballpark toilets between innings?
“The Mets play in Citi Field in Flushing Meadows – everybody got the joke,” Porky chuckles, adding that in 2017, after ballpark No. 15, he ran out of Roy’s remains.
He says he did the flushing with the utmost respect.
“I always went into a stall because it was more private,” he says. “I wouldn’t think of doing it in a urinal where everyone could watch. And if I had to use the toilet, I flushed between Roy and me. I would never pee on my friend.”
Baseball has always been an important part of Porky’s life.
If you didn’t know this, you would guess it as soon as you walk into his studio apartment, which, with its player posters, baseballs, bats and books of autographs, has been an eccentric mini-Cooperstown for the 39 years he has lived in it.
But Porky is far more than a collector of memorabilia.
He’s a writer, who, to date, has produced 24 books, including two New York City guidebooks (A Walk in the City and On the Tour) and 10 volumes of poetry.
For the most part, they are about – what else? — baseball.
Porky, whose father took him to his first game, at Shea Stadium, when he was 6, grew up in the building.
The family lived in the apartment across the hall. When his parents divorced and his mother married the studio’s occupant several years later, Porky moved in and turned it into a shrine to the all-American game.
In the beginning, he had a twin bed, but at some point switched to a fold-out sofa, which he insists is exceedingly comfortable, and that, when opened, fits into the space with scarcely an inch to spare.
Aside from bookcases, a flat-screen TV and a computer, the only other furnishings are a pair of mezzanine stadium seats, Nos. 20 and 21, that Porky bought when Shea was torn down.
Porky’s Place, the sign over the kitchen sink that Roy kept fixing, is left over from the time Porky had a bar there.
Porky, who was christened Thomas, got his nickname from the neighborhood kids.
“I was a little fat and had a pug nose,” he says. “I looked like the cartoon character Porky Pig. The name stuck — it doesn’t seem right if you call me anything else.”
When Porky was 15, he got his first job. It was at the deli around the corner.
Although he tried college – “I attended Hunter for three weeks” – Porky was happier working, and in 1985 he got a job with the New York Transit Authority.
In 1989, when he was compiling statistics on the last outs of World Series games, Porky began writing poetry.
“The poems just happened,” he says, adding that he’s penned 3,067. “I can’t explain it. I have a lot of dreams, and the poems come straight from them. I write them in longhand then type them into my computer. I also carry around a planner so I can write down ideas during the day.”
Since his retirement in 2016, Porky, whose favorite authors are Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe and whose TV taste is revealed in bookshelves filled with DVDs that range from Seinfeld to NCIS, has devoted his non-baseball time to his baseball-themed writing.
His latest collection, Poet in the Parks: 2011-2020, will be published next year.
Porky, who typically attends 25 to 30 Mets games at Citi Field and eight to 12 away games each season, is a left-fielder. He regrets that he hasn’t played baseball since he was in his 30s.
But his old glove is on top of a bookcase, right by The Autobiography of Mark Twain and The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, inviting him to put it on and get back in the game.
Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling