Stan Manel arrived early to the Polo Grounds ballpark on opening day in 1962 to take a crack at a part-time job.

Manel hadn't followed baseball since the Dodgers left Brooklyn four years earlier, but he was curious about the new team called the Mets.

As luck would have it, the 28-year-old just happened to be picked out of the lineup of men who wanted to be ushers.

What began as a way to make some extra cash became a way of life. Manel, now 81, of Holbrook, is the team's longest-serving usher. He's been with the Mets from the start -- 54 seasons -- greeting fans and showing them to their seats at thousands of games.

"Something was being born that day and I wanted to be a part of it," Manel said Wednesday as he sat in the "man cave" of his town house. The walls are blue and adorned with vintage photos, pennants, posters, game programs and autographed baseballs.

The newspaper clippings from games of the early 1960s were pristine except for a few yellowing edges. He has every Mets yearbook.

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Manel endured the team's first two historically bad seasons at the Polo Grounds, and he remembers the paint smell and a scoreboard that still lacked electricity when Shea Stadium opened in 1964.

And, of course, he'll be in place on Friday to greet fans when the Mets, down 2-0 to the Kansas City Royals, return home to Citi Field for Game 3 of the World Series.

"If there's anything that's held true all these years, it is that the Mets are a comeback team," Manel said. "They found a way to win and they will do it this year."

He usually works Section 319 on the Excelsior Level, right behind home plate -- a high-profile post, right in front of the press box where tickets were selling Thursday on StubHub.com for more than $2,000.

Manel's most memorable moment, he said, was at Shea in 1969 when then-Baltimore Orioles second baseman Davey Johnson flew out and the Mets won their first world championship.

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"Man walked on the moon and the Mets won the World Series -- for me it was the same feeling," Manel said with a hearty laugh.

The crowd went wild, and there was no way for the ushers, who generally aren't expected to be on security detail, to prevent the fans from running onto the field.

"It was very relaxed back then, but in '86, thank goodness, they had horses on the field so we were good," Manel said.

He chuckles when he thinks of how Johnson went on to manage the Mets and lead them to victory in the 1986 World Series.

"I knew they were going to do it that year," he said.

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Manel is among some 300 ushers at Citi Field.

Usher Rudy Marinacci, current union shop steward, said Manel has been among the ballpark's most welcoming faces.

By day, Manel sold home and auto insurance, but if the Mets were at their home field, his nights, weekends and holidays were spent watching from the aisle. He's been honored a few times for his service with plaques and other events, such as a happy birthday message on the Citi Field scoreboard when he turned 80.

Over the years, friends and family have asked him for tickets. "But I can't get involved with that," he said.

Only once, during the 1986 series, did he use his influence, so to speak. The Mets set aside a grab bag of tickets for ushers, and Manel got two of them.

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On the morning of Game 7, he asked his two sons about their plans for watching the game that evening. Both told him they would be busy.

"Then I told them I had tickets to Game 7 of the World Series," Manel said. "You should've seen their faces. They canceled their plans."

Born and raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he was the middle child of five in a Polish immigrant family.

"There's an electricity in this ballpark," Manel said of Citi Field. "You can feel the energy when the fans are turned on like that and to be a part of it all these years was simply amazing."