A lot of folks have written great Shea Stadium eulogies this week, with Ted Berg from SNY.tv standing out in particular with an excellent read, so I don’t want to get too much into Shea, since you can read so much about it elsewhere. I don’t have too many childhood memories from Shea, as my dad was not a baseball fan and thus was not overly eager to sit in rush hour traffic to get to the games, and stadium traffic getting out of them. Most of my stadium memories came as an adult, who could see some of the physical problems of the ol’ ball yard.
But that wasn’t what was important to me – what I liked about Shea was pretty simple; I could go there and see my favorite baseball team play, be it on one of the many Opening Days I attended, or the various Mets/Yankees games I went to, or even just a mid-summer game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure, I could go to a Mets game in Philadelphia (which has traditionally been a closer ride for me, until I moved recently), or elsewhere on the road, where they have “nicer” stadiums or more historic stadiums…but you know, I like going to Mets games where there are a lot of Mets fans. I like being one of many cheering when a Met hits a big homer, or when a Met makes a nice catch, or whatever. It seems simple, but it’s true; I hate being the only Mets fan cheering when they accomplish something good, and I hate being in the minority when the other team does something well and everybody else cheers.
That isn’t all I will take away from Shea, of course – I went to many fine ballgames there as well. Games like Game 4 of the 2000 NLDS, where Bobby Jones threw a one-hitter to beat the Giants and advance the Mets to the NLCS (the one time I went to Shea where it was literally ROCKING). Or other games that have been lost in the sands of time…Shane Spencer’s game-winning infield single that beat the Yankees, or Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s debut on Opening Day and the weird energy surrounding him, or the rain-delayed, extra inning game on Mother’s Day pitched by Steve Trachsel, where I left the ballpark at 6:30 with the game still tied in the 12th (game was scheduled at 1), or Mike Piazza’s home run to beat the Yankees when my friends and I were on the subway on the way home (the game was running late and we were worried about being stranded at Penn Station). These games probably don’t mean much to many people, and they may have been ultimately irrelevent (the Mets failed to make the playoffs in any of these seasons, or even come close), but they hold a special place to me, and they took place at Shea Stadium.
Getting back to Ted Berg’s column, one item in particular stood out to me, that I’d like to reprint below:
I understand that shaving 10,000 seats in capacity is a sound business decision, and that luxury boxes and high ticket prices at Citi Field will pay for Johan Santana and everything. But Shea’s charm, to me, always rested in how two kids could show up on any given day, pick up a pair of upper-deck tickets on the cheap, and take in a Mets game. I suppose it shouldn’t matter to me now, credentialed for the press box and without my brother to sit with, but it does.
Because to me, being a fan has nothing to do with sitting in cushy seats with reasonable legroom and cupholders and many fine dining options. And it has nothing to do with showing up to see a competitive team, as the Mets seem to field every year nowadays. Being a fan is sticking through the summer of 1995, trying to see promise in failure, finding the purity in a game with no postseason implications, and maintaining hope and passion and faith in a team that’s just not very good.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is exactly how I have felt ever since the Mets announced groundbreaking on what would become Citi Field. For years, I bought into the idea that the Mets “needed” a new stadium – until they actually started building the new stadium. Then I remembered, the Mets have Shea, and it may not be the nicest stadium, but it served their needs well; it provided the team a place to play ball games, and a place where fans could watch ball games. The idea that the Mets needed a new stadium to provide fans with better dining options, or nicer amenities…as a person who goes to the games, buys a hot dog, maybe a piece or two of merchandise, and watches the games, all the other stuff isn’t anything I will particularly care about, and I suspect most Mets fans feel the same way. You can do these things at Shea just as easily as at Citi Field.
The Mets have never had problems selling tickets; at most, they will draw a few new fans in 2009 to see the new stadium regardless of how good the team is (and they will probably be pretty good), and settle back into their usual pattern of drawing well when the team is good, and poorly when it is not. Meanwhile, the limited seating means it will be impossible to get tickets to big games (it was already impossible to get tickets to Opening Day and the Mets/Yankees series), and hard to get cheap tickets to games less in-demand. That’s great for the Wilpons, but it’s bad for the fans; it means fans of limited means will go to fewer ball games. I suppose that’s the way the world moves, but it just doesn’t seem fair to me.
But I will miss Shea. I understand not everybody will feel the same way about the place; our own Joeadig quickly grew tired of my reminiscing at the game Sunday. It’s not a perfect place, and I’ll even concede it doesn’t smell so nice (although granted, that could also be just as much because of the area). It even annoyed me that the field level seats didn’t point towards home plate (which I have since found is because that section moves for football). But I have so many memories there, and I’ve always enjoyed the idea that if I ever was inclined to attend a game with many Mets fans in attendance, that I could do so without having to spend too much and without having to worry that the game was sold out. The best thing you can say about Shea is that it is functional; is that really such a bad thing?