Saturday, August 2, 2008

Shea Stadium: The Long Goodbye

It is impossible to overstate how important Shea Stadium was to me as a kid. It was where I first fell in love - with two teams, with a city, with a borough, with nostalgia at an early age way before my time. Everything I needed to know about life I learned in the short space of a few years watching the Mets and Jets play there. Life is a brittle and ephemeral experiment with happiness. Most all else requires patient, persistent, devotion and love, even when it is not merited. This I learned at Shea.

When I was a kid, it never struck me as reasonable that the All-Star Game wasn't played at Shea (it was, back in 1965). Why wasn't Shea as beloved as Yankee Stadium? Would people someday rhapsodize nostalgically about Shea the way they did about past National League parks like Ebbets and the Polo Grounds? I did not understand that what I felt toward Shea was a bit like what my Mom felt toward me as she overlooked my unruly, mangy hair, my lisp or the huge gap between my teeth. She loved me as I was, and thus I loved big ugly Shea.

My wife and I traveled from Philly to Flushing last Saturday to catch one last game at the home ground. For sheer Shea style, the experience did not disappoint. It's clear that the landlords are providing the bare bones of facility comfort as they await the patient's demise. The area beyond the battered-looking outfield wall is like an empty lot unto itself. There was a once a picnic area beyond the 410 mark that today is the front step of the "rotunda" they are building for Citi Field. There were at least five major brawls you could follow by looking for the heavyset security men in mustard shirts amassing to break it up. The Mets and Cardinals went 14 innings with the home team losing 10-8 in a sprawling offensive struggle that saw two homers from Carlos Delgado. A lovely night and a very, very long goodbye. My wife and I managed to get to bed at three.

Here are some snapshots, with the banal observation:

From our seat, the view below, with the pocked (drainage?) turf.

The home run apple, originally bearing the words "Mets Magic," from back in the day when the Mets were proclaiming that "The Magic is Back," circa 1980. How wonderfully incomprehensible that the magician pulls an apple from the hat. It reminds me of Nick Hornby's memory of a footie game where the PA system played "I've Got a Lovely Batch of Coconuts" to celebrate a victory. The apple makes sense, I know, but it's a mixed hat of metaphors at best. No rabbit to be found anywhere. The apple is no Mackintosh; it looks its age, its membrane a battered, faded red. My wife hopes they take it to Citi Field. It's no Bernie Brewer home run slide, either, but the apple is the perfect Shea accessory. Look at the makeshift manner in which the newly recovered leaf is attached to the fruit in question.

It is not seven after three, although I think that's when we finally turned the lights out at home. If you look closely, you see that the time is actually 9:07 pm. Armitron doesn't bother to object to the poor product placement.

As night fell, as the wee small morning hours crawled in, the eerie Shea lighting became an interesting thing to observe. The powerful string of lights near the ends of the semi-circle offer the bulk of the light cast on the players. The rest of the semi-circle is in relative darkness, creating what I have always felt is a rather stark light on the field.

There he is. Cow Bell Man, or "Cow-Bell Man" as his Mets jersey reads. The crowd genuinely loves him. A man and his cowbell, or "cow-bell." He came visiting for a Mets-Phillies game at the Vet about eight years ago, and the back of his jersey read "Cow Bell-Man," which was confusing. This has since been corrected. Cow. Bell. Man. Cow. Bell. Man.

Farewell, old friend. See you at the implosion.


PJC said...

Major League Baseball's All Star Game was played at Shea Stadium on Tuesday July 7, 1964 (not 1965) with Johnny Callison hitting a game-ending three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap off a four run rally as the National League defeated the American league 7-4. Boxscore at this link:

Martin Roche said...

Thanks very much. This I should have known.