"I don't really have a favorite player," said the 84-year-old Jackson, who has called Jersey City his home since World War II. "I like the whole group, the whole team. The players change on the teams so much now, so it's hard to have a favorite player. But I like them all. I root for all of them."
Jackson says that he vividly recalls the Mets' glory days of 1969.
"They had a guy in Tug McGraw who said, 'You gotta believe,' " Jackson said. "They were the Amazin' Mets, with Gil Hodges and Tommie Agee. I remember things like that. I went for the Mets in a big way."
Jackson says that he's happy to still be around and still root for the Mets. Unfortunately, the three heroes of the Miracle Mets of 1969 are no longer with us.
"But I'm still alive," Jackson said. "I'm proud to say I'm 84 years old. I may not be kicking too much these days, but I'm still here."
Jack Coleman is another die-hard senior citizen baseball fan from Jersey City. He also vividly recalls the national pastime in an era long gone, but does so with a different sense of recollection.
"If you make me think back, I think of the Jersey City Giants (the Class AAA franchise of the New York Giants that called the now-defunct Roosevelt Stadium their home in the 1940s and 50s)," Coleman said. "That was our team. They were Jersey City. A few years later, we had the Jersey City Indians (in 1977 and 1978). I looked at a game program recently and that team had Rickey Henderson on it. He must have been very young."
Sure enough, the future Hall of Famer Henderson did play in Jersey City in 1978, long before he became baseball's all-time stolen base king.
"It was really something special back then, going to those games in Jersey City," Coleman said.
Since both men are in their golden years, they don't get a chance to see many live baseball games anymore.
"I try as much as I can, but it's not easy to get tickets, especially for Yankee games," Coleman said. "It's so hard to get tickets for Yankee games."
But thanks to the Jersey City Department of Recreation, a group of Jersey City seniors get the chance to catch their local baseball heroes whenever there is a mid-week day game.
John Nagel, who also serves as the head track coach and athletic director at St. Dominic Academy, has been coordinating the field trips for the seniors to both Yankee and Shea Stadiums for the last decade.
The idea came when Nagel was working in the Jersey City Department of Senior Affairs with the late Joe Gallagher.
"Joe and I used to go to a lot of the senior citizen meetings around the city and at the time, we used to offer bus trips to Atlantic City," Nagel said. "At one of the meetings, someone mentioned that we should take bus trips to baseball games and that was music to my ears, because I am a big baseball fan. We have continued to offer the trips as a form of passive recreation for the seniors."
Nagel makes arrangements with both the ticket offices of the Yankees and Mets and secures the tickets for the seniors at a discount rate. The Recreation Department provides the free transportation. The city makes pick-ups at three locations - Berry Gardens in Greenville, the Maureen Collier Senior Center on Bergen and Virginia Avenues and the Paterson Street facility in the Heights.
"We go to about four or five games a year," Nagel said. "The people just love it. We also make sure that the name goes on the scoreboard during the game. They get a big kick out of it."
Last week, when the seniors journeyed to Shea Stadium to see the Mets face the San Diego Padres, they got to get a close glimpse of a local baseball hero.
"As we were arriving, so was Mike Piazza [the former Met who now plays for the Padres]," Nagel said. "Some of the seniors actually got the chance to talk to Piazza. He was right there."
"Someone said that Piazza was coming into the stadium when we were there," Jackson said. "I didn't see his face. I just saw the back of his head."
Both men are regulars of the trips, even though Jackson is a Met fan and Coleman favors the Yankees.
"I go to both, but I do prefer the Mets," Jackson said. "Since I'm a big baseball fan and I'm alone now, I like to go and enjoy the games. I enjoy it very much. We all reminisce about the older players. There's a nice group of people who go to the games regularly. We have a lot of fun."
"I think this a wonderful idea," Coleman said. "Otherwise, a lot of us wouldn't be able to go. We do have a lot of fun and it's at a good price. It makes it very appealing. I'm primarily a Yankee fan, but I like going to both places. It's something to do. It gives us all something to do, going to the games. John Nagel does a great job coordinating it.
Added Coleman, "I like to reminisce with the fellows and talk of the old days. It makes me think back to those days."
"It's definitely a good service for us," Jackson said. "It's just a great time, getting on the bus and talking baseball."
Nagel said that he received some assistance from former St. Peter's Prep football standout Rocky Halsey, who now works for the Yankees.
"He's been a big help with these trips," said Nagel, who also calls upon the services of his SDA athletes who assist as chaperones for the seniors.
"Everyone has a really good time," Nagel said. "It's good that we're able to provide these trips."
And give the elder set a chance to remember their youth in the process. - Jim Hague