Every August when I was a kid my family would make its annual pilgrimmage to Shea Stadium. My father and I would go to the local branch of the Manufacturers Hanover bank to buy tickets. Yes, that’s where they used to sell Mets tickets back then. Money was tight, but my father always insisted on buying field level box seats — $16. No, that wasn’t $16 for each ticket, that was for four tickets. $4 a piece! One year we sat right behind home plate, tickets that go for up to $695 now. That game in 1973 was a 16 inning affair against the Reds. We stayed for the entire game, much to the chagrin of my baseball-weary mother.
I was especially excited for the game the previous year because the Mets were playing the Braves, and I would get to see my hero, Hank Aaron, in the flesh. Alas, he did not start (I guess they did the day-game-after-a-night-game thing back then, too). My memory of the game is this — Tom Seaver started, Tug McGraw came in in relief in the ninth to pitch to pinch-hitter Aaron and intentionally walked him as the crowd booed. I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see him hit. The Mets won 2-1. I was able to find the boxscore on baseball-reference.com, and it turns out that’s the way the game went down. I was pleasantly surprised my memory as a 9-year-old was correct.
As the years went on, I went to dozens of games at Shea, some of them very memorable — Fernando Valenzuela’s first start in New York during his incredible 1981 rookie season that started the spread of Fernandomania across the country. The final game of that season with about a thousand people in the stands. Dwight Gooden’s one-hitter against the Cubs in 1984, when the upper deck was swaying so much I thought it was going to collapse. Game 3 of the NLDS against the Diamondbacks in 1999. Aaron Heilman’s one-hitter (yes, Aaron Heilman threw a one-hitter!) against the Marlins in 2005.
While the players changed and the people with whom I went to the game changed, the one constant was Shea Stadium. A few things changed — the color of the seats, the Jumbotron, those cheap-looking bleachers in the picnic area, that hideous black tower for TV cameras. But Shea pretty much stayed the same. Except each time I went it seemed the worse for wear. The place was turning into a deteriorating, hulking mass. You couldn’t find anyone who didn’t think it was time for a new stadium. Mike Piazza said it best when asked about Shea. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “it’s home.”
And now we have a new home. The gleaming Citi Field rose in the shadows of decrepit Shea. We could see the future and the past at the same time, and the future, while ironically looking like the past of another field, looked bright. It was time to move into our new home.
Citi Field is a huge step up from Shea, on par with any of the new retro stadiums built over the past decade or so. Much has been written about the lack of Mets history in the park, so there’s no reason to re-visit that here. I will ask, though, where’s the blue and orange? The seats are green. The outfield wall is black. Those are not Mets colors. They both should have been blue. And would it have killed them to put the Mets logo on one of the two scoreboards? Check out the scoreboard at Comerica Park. There’s no doubt who plays there.
Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated
Overall, Citi Field is a winner. The seats are closer to the field than Shea, the corridors are spacious, you can see the field from the concession stands, the food court is a great idea, and the bridge is kind of cool.
But one thing Citi Field is missing is that signature piece that tells you where you are. Some stadiums have something natural to use — the bay at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the skyline and bridge at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the warehouse at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Other stadiums created something — the hill and flagpole in center field at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the big Coke bottle at Turner Field in Atlanta, the green monster at Fenway Park in Boston.
Now, unless you find auto body shops naturally beautiful, there is nothing of beauty for Citi Field to use. And they really didn’t create anything that says “hey, you’re at Citi Field.” The bridge is a possibility, but it really doesn’t stand out. Maybe something will develop that will become the stadium’s signature, but so far, nothing.
As I watched my first game at Citi Field, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about the place that used to stand across the parking lot. Suddenly, I was nostalgic for old Shea. And looking at those photos of Shea being unceremoniously torn down makes me sad.
I am surprised at how I feel. I was happy to see ugly Shea go. And now I want it back. It’s kind of like that old girlfriend (or boyfriend, for that matter) about whom you can’t stop thinking. She wasn’t so bad, you think. We had a lot of great times together. And when you get back together, you realized why you broke up with her in the first place.
Well, Shea is gone, and we can never have it back. And maybe it’s better that way. We can just think about the good times we had there, and forget what a rotten building it truly was. With Shea out of the picture forever, we can concentrate on making memories in our new place. It may not be perfect — no place can possibly be – but the good far outweighs the bad. But most important, it’s home now.