SHEA Stadium Memories

Well we paid our (probable) final ever visit to William A. Shea Municipal Stadium a while ago, so that as they say is just about the end of that.

A couple of weekends ago I also went up to Yankee Stadium. Under most circumstances (except for inter-league Mets v Yankees games) the New York Giants offensive line, running at me full throttle, couldn’t force my ass through the door of Yankee Stadium, but I’d be surprised if most Mets fans like me haven’t had a sneaky visit there this year, if only to say they were there before they finally tore it down after 85 mostly glorious years. Plus, the Yankees lost and they’re done for another year, so obviously all the negative vibes that I was directing towards their dugout did the trick.
However, it was an unhappy and pretty gut-wrenching experience last night at Shea Stadium, though not because needing to sweep the Marlins to ensure that they stay alive, the Mets could still only manage to score one miserable run. The Mets hesitant and glacial like progress this year towards a possible post-season spot has been excruciatingly painful to watch all summer, let’s be honest apart from two brief hot 10-day spells they’ve only played around .500 baseball all year, and for the most part they’ve played with all the expertise, conviction, and credibility of the Jamaican bob-sledding team. To be honest I’m starting to totally dread Septembers, it’s getting like each summer I’m just counting the days down to an annual rectal probe examination. I had an ominous feeling when I first saw the schedule, and how we get to play the Marlins again in the final weekend just like we did last year, that this possibly wasn’t going to end too well. All credit to Florida who pitched very well and were right on the money all night, but trust the Mets to suck all the fun out of the end of our summer yet again during the final weekend. I’m glad I never got tickets for game 162 tomorrow like I did last year, sure we’ll miss the big ‘Shea Memories’ parade on the field before the game, but another hellish afternoon like that and our two sons could be permanently psychologically scarred for life and end up wearing makeup and dresses or something. So it looks like in order to survive, get into the post season, and give us the opportunity to maybe have a final visit to Shea, that the Mets now basically need the biggest miracle since that famous occasion when the Popemobile entered Shea Stadium in a torrential downpour, he waved his hands around a bit, and within 30 seconds the rain had stopped!

Anyway we all had a final look around the ballpark after the game, at least nobody was herding you out of your seats so that the garbage collectors can move in and the security guys can all go home, which is what they normally do, and so for most fans it was a pretty sedate and emotional departure.

Indulge me if I get a little extemporaneous here for a few minutes, but I’m not sure what to say about the final days of Shea Stadium, so let me just tell you about my father-in-law and Shea Stadium, because I’m guessing that a big part of him died last night.

My father-in-law is called Stan. He’s 82 and he’s a reconstructed Brooklyn Dodgers fan. In the 1930’s he grew up in Sheepshead Bay and by the age of 10 he was going to Ebbets Field with his pals to watch his Dodgers, and as he got older he saw Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reece play, and Duke Snider and Gil Hodges, and Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, these were all his heroes. But then the Dodgers left New York and so, hating the Yankees as he has done his whole life, Stan has been a Mets fan ever since the 1962 Casey Stengel Mets, that’s the team by the way who were so lousy they could only manage 40-50 wins a year for about their first four seasons. After he retired he held a season ticket at Shea Stadium for 16 straight seasons until he simply became too frail to get up there 70-80 odd times a year, so he then passed it on to his eldest son (my brother-in-law) and now we basically share Stan’s ticket around the family, mainly because by the simple act of possessing a season ticket you are always guaranteed tickets for the post-season (though obviously not if your team flunks a healthy divisional lead every year). Last night after the game when we went to find him in his seat to take him home, he just asked to be left alone in his seat for a few minutes as the place emptied, in case there is no post-season, and so for him after over 40 years as a fan there would be no more Shea Stadium. So we took a walk around and he just sat there on his own for a while wearing that same battered old Brooklyn Dodgers cap that he’s worn for as long as I can remember.

Stan was in Shea Stadium for the infamous Bill Buckner game, and he was there the next night when they beat the Red Sox in Game 7 in 1986. He was there in 1969 when the ‘Miracle Mets’ beat the Orioles in Game 5 in the greatest upset in World Series history. He was there in 1999 when Robin Ventura hit a 15th inning grand-slam out of the ballpark in the NLCS against the Braves. He was there last September when we were crushed by the Marlins in game 162 after blowing a 7 game lead with only 17 games to play. And I even sat right next to Stan in September 2001 at the first MLB game back after ‘9/11’ when the massed bagpipes of the NYPD and FDNY pipes and drums stood out in centre field and played ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ and we all cried and we all thought “how am I going to get through this game?”… and then just two hours later Mike ‘Mr Mets’ Piazza stepped up and crushed the greatest game winning home run of his career live on coast-to-coast national TV, and so by this very simple but cathartic single swing of the bat, for just one night all American sports fans briefly became New York Mets fans.

So I really didn’t know what the hell to say to Stan last night when we left Shea Stadium probably for the final time, he didn’t say more than about two words in the car all the way home until he said “goodnight”, but I knew exactly what he was thinking about all the way home.

The thing is that your team is a very transient thing. There are obviously some exceptions, but players in the most part don’t give a damn about the fans, or the ballpark, and even with multi-millions already in the bank they just come and go on a whim motivated entirely by contract considerations and chasing the next fattest available pay-check. It reminds me of the line in that Jimmy Fallon comedy where he plays a Red Sox fan and he’s asked “You say that you love your team, but just ask yourself this, have they ever really loved you back?” But the ballpark is a very much different thing, it means everything to the fans, many of these places aren’t just sports stadiums, they’re places of worship. And until they tear the ballpark down, as a sports fan the ballpark is your whole past, your whole present, and your whole future. Baseball fans are actually very territorial, far more so than in any other sport I find, and many of them sit in the exact same seats in the exact same section surrounded by the exact same people for year after year, just like Stan did for many years. So when the ballpark is gone forever, then a lot of those people are gone forever too. We’ve made dozens of friends over the years through just being inside Shea Stadium. The ballpark belongs to the fans far more so than the players belong to them. Nobody I know ever gets emotionally attached to players the same way that they get emotionally attached to the ballpark, nobody would cry any tears if we traded Santana away tomorrow, in the same way that they will cry tears when the wrecking crew moves in to flatten Shea Stadium.

Stan doesn’t really know if he wants to go to see the Mets at Citifield next year, to be honest he doesn’t even like the fact that the new ballpark construction has blocked his view out over centre field across Flushing all year, but my guess is that we’ll drag him along to a game or two. A few weeks ago he and I both looked at the CG mock-up of the finished beautiful new ballpark on his computer, and how it will look with its graceful old-time Ebbets Field exterior, and the amazing Jackie Robinson tribute rotunda that they are having, and I told him they’re even taking the famous Shea Stadium ‘Home Run Big Apple’ to the new place. So he says he’s thinking about it!

Nothing much else to say really, maybe the Mets can still somehow extend their season into October and we can maybe go again, but for almost half a century Shea Stadium was a magical place for millions. A lot of people say they don’t like it as it was too big and ugly, or too cold, or too close to the airport, but I’m guessing they’re mostly people who never went there, or certainly never went there on a hot moonlit night in July with a big crowd all having the time of their lives win or lose. And anyway if anyone wants to maybe go 15 rounds arguing about it, then I can give you the email address of one old guy who they need to talk to.

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