Shea Stadium, a futuristic perfect circle ballpark cast in concrete over the ash piles of Flushing Meadows, Queens, has now gone dark forever. It will be replaced by CitiField, right next door. As a lifelong Mets fan and neighbor of Shea Stadium, I am upset to see the great building go and I don't like the corporate label on the new ballpark. But at the same time, I'm grateful the Mets will remain in Flushing Meadows Park, and I like it that CitiField is architecturally based upon Ebbets Field, historic home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Needless to say, I loved Shea Stadium. I even wrote a book about it (I still say The Summer of the Mets was a damn great book, but nobody loves a self-published novel). I've probably seen at least sixty Mets games there, including the intense 2006 Mets, the doomed 2000 Mets, the boring 1995 Mets, the legendary 1986 Mets, the hapless 1973 "You Gotta Believe" Tug McGraw Mets, and, yes, my friends, when I was seven years old I saw Tom Seaver pitch against the Chicago Cubs with the "Impossible Dream" 1969 Mets. I also drove past the stadium about four billion times, saw the Police with Joan Jett and R.E.M. there in 1983 ... me and that big concrete bowl go back a long way.
Shea Stadium is a very literary place. First, it's built on a spot described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Don Delillo wrote a weird movie, Game Six, about one of the most famous World Series victories of all time which took place there -- the same Game Six (1986, vs. the Red Sox) immortalized in Seinfeld and many other places. George Plimpton once wrote an April Fools day hoax story in Sports Illustrated about a barefoot Mets pitcher named Sidd Finch. Paul Auster's City of Glass is about a Mets fan who goes insane (Mookie Wilson has something to do with it), and writers from Jonathan Lethem to Frank Messina have celebrated the team from various literary perches.
Shea Stadium is a major symbol in my novel Summer of the Mets, which nobody ever reads but which is a psychological study of a kid who suffers from extreme shyness. He has trouble with various social encounters, but then he goes to Mets games with his family and marvels at the human synchronicity -- the cheers, the boos, the Wave -- of the packed crowd surrounding him in Shea's concrete perfect circle. He finds that Mets games are the only place where he can be part of a large crowd and not feel alienated.
I wrote about this because, of course, that's the way I used to feel when I was a kid and went to Shea Stadium, and I guess in a way I've never stopped feeling that way about the place. I wonder if this is a common reason why people enjoy going to baseball games. If it is, I don't think there could have ever been a friendlier or more welcoming place (not like that other ballpark uptown) to enjoy a baseball game than rollickin' Shea Stadium, an unpretentious arena where New Yorkers have always been at their nicest.
I took my family to the last Shea Stadium night game ever last Friday (where we took the photo above). Our Mets got their asses kicked by the Florida Marlins, and now all postseason chances are blown, but we all had a great time and didn't mind. Hopefully we'll take the division next year at CitiField.
Hmm ... assuming that next year there is still a Citibank to sponsor the place.
If not, we'll go play stickball by the Globe.
Goodbye, Shea. You'll remain a ghostly presence next to Grand Central Parkway forever.