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Memories of Shea

As baseball season starts up in earnest, I can't help but think about my own history as a fan of the sport.

When I was growing up, my younger brother Josh was the real instigator when it came to baseball. I suppose that left to my own devices, I could have just ignored baseball for the most part; I was more into comic books and Star Trek.

But Josh fell in love with baseball at an early age, and due to his urgings, my family began following our beloved team: the Yankees.

You read that right. In the beginning, despite living in Queens, the Burstein clan were Yankees fans as well as Mets fans.

There were legitimate reasons for this. We grew up in the 1970s, and in 1977 the Yankees had one of the major success stories of their career. That was the year of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson, and the year of the World Series. I vividly remember the whole family shlepping to the Bronx to see a game or two; I remember how much we cheered for Thurmon Munson and how tragic it was when he died; and I remember how we idolized Reggie, and his eponymous candy bar.

However, by the time the 1980s rolled around, we had started to mostly follow the major league team in Flushing. I think it was the return of Tom Seaver to the Mets for the 1983 season that caught our imagination, although I do recall that Josh was also a big fan of Danny Heep. Josh started following the Mets regularly, and the rest of us followed suit.

Josh was eager to attend games at Shea Stadium, and so my parents took a step that still boggles my mind today. They bought season tickets to Mets games. Now, we didn't buy tickets for the whole family, nor did we buy tickets for every single home game in the season. Rather, we bought a package of tickets for all Saturday games, and we only bought two seats for those games. The theory was that Josh would get to go to each game, and someone else in the family would take him. Most of the time either Mom or Dad would take Josh to Shea, but occasionally Jon or I would do so.

And to my mind, Shea was the most beautiful stadium in the world. It was big, and blue, and always (believe it or not) very clean. The fans felt united in our love of the team, something I felt whenever the announcer spoke or when they played "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. Our seats were a bit far up, so the field looked somewhat far away, but the view from our seats (along the first base line) was unobstructed. When I sat with Josh at a game, I would take in the expansive, deep blue sky, breathe in fresh parkland air, and root, root, root for our home team. And if they didn't win, it was a shame.

Now, baseball fans are aware that we all have our own little superstitions and idiosincrasies. And it did not escape my notice that every time I attended a Mets game at Shea, the Mets would lose. Rationally, I knew that my presence in the stadium had no effect whatsoever, but in the back of my mind, I felt like a jinx.

So when 1986 rolled around, and the Mets ended up in the World Series, and my family acquired tickets to games one and seven, I was torn about whether or not I should accompany Josh to the games.

For about one second. World Series? I'm there, baby!

Josh was amused when I "offered" to take him to the World Series games, but the fact was that both Dad and Mom didn't care that much about attending in person, and neither did Jon. (Mom's only concern was that we would be safe among the crowds, and I promised her that I would look after Josh.) Josh and I attended game one on Saturday, October 18, and I recall how raucous and boisterous the other fans were. There was something magical in the air – at least, until the Mets lost to the Red Sox 1-0.

We watched the rest of the games on television with trepidation. On the one hand, we wanted the Mets to win the World Series, and as quickly as possible. On the other hand, we had tickets to game seven, and if the Mets won too soon, we wouldn't be able to attend game seven as it would not be played. So we watched, as the Mets lost game two, then won game three and four, then lost game five...

I won't reiterate the details of game six here, except to note how quickly we went from depression to elation. Game seven was delayed by rain and held on the evening of Monday, October 27, and Josh and I went. I remember how disappointed we felt when the Sox took an early lead in the second inning; how delighted we felt when the Mets scored three runs each in the sixth and seventh innings; how nervous we felt when the Sox scored two more runs in the eighth; how pleased we felt when the Mets scored two more in the bottom of that same inning; and how the stadium erupted in joyful cheers when the game ended with a Mets win. The Mets were champions again, for the first time within our lifetime, and we dearly hope to see them win a World Series again at some point soon. (Please.)

The last time I was in Shea was to see the Mets in one of the 1988 playoff games. I don't remember which game it was I saw, or even who I was with. All I remember is that they lost that game, and went on to lose the pennant.

And now, I'll probably never return to Shea again. For this season is the last one that will be played at Shea, as in 2009 the Mets will take up residence in Citi Field, just next door. And of all the news sites to praise Shea Stadium and William A. Shea, oddly enough, it's the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana with the best tribute. Check out the article "Mets shouldn't forget Shea when new stadium opens" by Bob Estelle, and learn about how Bill Shea worked to replace the Dodgers and Giants. If it weren't for Bill Shea, I wouldn't have the fond memories of the Mets – and of Shea Stadium – that I have today.

Thanks, Bill.

Comments

if it makes you feel better: here in chicago, Comiskey (White Sox) Park was renamed to Cellular Field after U.S. Cellular (not a bank!) shelled out gobs of cash.

it got shortened in the vernacular almost immediately to "the cell"...makes them grumpy, but it's out of their hands.
I am planning on getting to the city at some point this summer to see one last Yankee game at Yankee stadium. Maybe, if it can be arranged and you guys happen to be in the City at the same time, we can go to one last Mets game at Shea together--my treat.
That would be nice. Especially the "your treat" part. :-)

Edited at 2008-04-11 11:48 am (UTC)
I have one thing to say:

"Mookie! Mookie! Mookie!"

That is all.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Couldn't have said it better myself.

I can:

MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOK!

(For you Red Sox fans, it rhymes with what they say when Keven Youkilis comes to bat).
A subway series would be a fitting end to this season.
Does that seem likely, though? Right now, my beloved Mets are bouncing up and down in the standings...it's very sad. :-)

Edited at 2008-04-11 11:48 am (UTC)
You and I were probably at games together in Shea!

Ah, the Mets, how I love them.

Great post, thank you!
When were you attending games at Shea? We may very well have been in the ballpark at the same time.

Edited at 2008-04-11 11:48 am (UTC)
Around the very late 70's -- 78, 79, and early 80's...possibly at late as 84-85, but I know we had stopped going to games by 86 (of course, since then we DIDN'T try to get playoff tickets).
When I was a kid in Philadelphia I was a big fan of baseball (the strike of '94 killed my interest). My family used to go down to Veterans Stadium--this huge, circular, concrete monster--and watch games from the nosebleed seats. What made it cool was that my big brother's grandfather (to whom I'm not related) helped build it.

The city built a new field a few years ago. They tore down the Vet in '04. Now it's a parking lot. Even though I don't like baseball, it's sad to lose these old stadiums.
I too lost a lot of interest in baseball with the '94 strike. But recently, I've gotten some of it back again.

I agree that it's very sad to lose the old stadiums (stadia?). I kind of think Shea is just fine, myself.

Edited at 2008-04-11 11:48 am (UTC)
I didn't mind Shea too much as a Yankees fan all my life. But the one thing that really annoyed me that the new stadium will still have: LaGuardia Airport. Building a stadium so close to an airport wasn't such a good idea now, was it?

Personally, Yankee Stadium isn't that great of a venue either. It was mostly a product of the 1974-5 remodeling and resembles the old stadium in only bits and pieces.

I am excited to see both Citifield and the new Yankee Stadium when they open. I hope they have the charm (and the amenities) that a park like Oriole Park at Camden Yards has. That place is truly a fan-friendly place. I always liked going to that place.
The smart thing about the new Yankee Stadium is that the Yankees refused to sell naming rights. They're willing to accept corporate sponsorship, but they said that the name must stay Yankee Stadium. That's cool.

Bill Shea deserves the same respect, in my opinion. But what can I do?
Pointed this entry out to my Michael this morning, since some of our courtship happened at Mets games at Shea in the summer of 1986.

Not at the World Series, though. Those games we watched on TV with friends in a cabin in Pennsyltucky.
Still, we might very well have been in the stadium at the same time...
Having spent Tuesday afternoon lazing in the sun at the Mets' Home Opener, but not having had time to post about it myself, it's really nice to read your memories of Shea. It is the best stadium in America, because unlike other storied parks, it comes with no preconceived notions of "Greatness". It is simply, a ballpark. A place where real fans of the game (not fans of a team, or fans of a particular player) can go to enjoy baseball with all its ups-and-downs.

Oddly, on Tuesday, they held a ceremony wherein the team retired the name "Shea", and added a plaque with the name to the wall of retired jersey numbers. Why they did this on Opening Day remains a mystery. I suppose for the rest of the year, we'll have to just call it "the Stadium".
As I've said above, I wish they'd keep the name Shea for the new stadium.

I'm glad you had a chance to enjoy the home opener.
I remember Shea Stadium being brand new in 1964. It's sad that something so relatively new is being replaced. The World's Fair was also at that time, and we were in Flushing Meadow often.

My father was chief of surgery at Brookdale Hospital, and one of the hospital trustees let us use his box a few rows back from first base pretty much anytime we wanted. This also let us in to the Diamond Club restaurant, so the experience was quite nice. Casey Stengel's wife Edna sat nearby and I went to get her autograph, and she wrote "Casey Stengel." We also were able to go to the 1964 All-Star game at Shea.

The Mets were really bad in those days, but they quickly improved. Unfortunately for us, as they improved, it got harder for us to use the box and we did not get to go to the World Series in 1969. My parents moved to Florida in the early '70s, and I haven't been to Shea since then.

I did follow the 1986 playoffs and series, which were incredibly exciting.
Sometimes I wish I were a little older, as I have no memories of the 1969 World Series.

Have you ever seen the time-travel movie "Frequency"? The 1969 Series plays a part in that film.

Edited at 2008-04-11 11:51 am (UTC)
Hey Michael,

Whaddyaknow, I have the Saturday ticket mini-plan myself these days. If you're in town for any of the Saturday games, drop me and Tina a line, I'd be more than happy to take you and Nomi to a Mets game in this final year at Shea!

And at least you got to see the Mets win a World Series. The year-end returns from my mini-plan post-season options have been to see them lose to the Yankees in 2000 (I was there both for the one game they won, Game 3, and the Series ender, Game 5), and to lose to the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS. (Not to mention the options that suddenly dropped "out of the money" in last year's epic regular-season collapse.)

Incredible as it may sound, the 2006 NLCS loss was more painful in many ways than the World Series loss (even as I recall how Shea seemed 30% or more full of Yankees fans celebrating at the end of that game), because I really, really, really felt deep down the Mets were destined to win that Game 7. After Endy Chavez' incredible over-the-wall catch, and then having the winning runs on base with the bases loaded, 2 outs, bottom of the 9th, down by two runs and the cleanup batter at the plate... I mean, that's the SCRIPT, right? What happened to Terry Pratchett's theory of Narrative Causality? Arrgh!

-Warren
I really would have liked to see the Mets win in 2000. Or 2006. Or 2007...

Not sure how likely it is we'll be able to take you up on your offer; you may just have to enjoy Shea's final year on my behalf.
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