Shea Stadium (1982-2008)
- First visit: Sunday August 15th 1982
- Last visit: Thursday September 25th 2008
For much of my life as a baseball fan, the New York Mets (my favorite squadron) were bad or awful, and 1982 was no exception. Though I was a lifelong Mets fan, I had not been to the venerable Shea Stadium. My MLB baseball experiences to that point had been relegated to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia PA and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. Since we did not have access to a car in the early days, we took bus trips to see MLB games, and until 1982, we did not find any bus tours to Shea.
My brother and I decided to change that, and arranged to see the Chicago Cubs against the hometown Mets on August 15, 1982. Not having a car, and with no bus tours available for that game, we concocted what I now recognize as a risky plan to get to Shea Stadium. We took a NJ Transit bus from our hometown on the Jersey Shore to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, we walked around the corner to catch the Number 7 train to Shea Stadium. Though this doesn’t seem particularly risky, I should add that I was 17 years old, and my brother was 10. Neither of us had ever ridden the subway, so we learned as we went. Of course, even at 17 I did not realize the precariousness that I placed both of us in with the trip. It was until many years later that my brother told me that I told our mother that we were taking a bus tour to Shea, so she had NO idea what we were doing. Mom would have NEVER allowed us to do anything so foolhardy, and I assume that’s why I lied to her.
Upon arrival, I was stunned by the size of Shea Stadium, as it was MUCH larger in person than on TV. We walked around a bit before looking for our seats. Not having a good idea of how the stadium was laid out, we found the correct seats numbers, but after consulting with an usher, we found that we were on the wrong level. Instead of the Loge, we were in the Mezzanine, one level up. We marveled at the fact that were were actually there, after talking about it for so long. By that time, Shea Stadium was 18 years old, and was beginning to show its age. The Mets were still sharing Shea with the New York Jets, and maintaining cleanliness within the stadium itself was a monumental challenge. Despite that, the playing field was in great shape, and we were set to enjoy the game.
Back in those days, Sunday afternoon games typically started at 130 PM, and we were a bit perplexed as to why this game was starting at 100 PM. We discovered that the Cubs and Mets would play a doubleheader that day, with Banner Day occurring in between games. My brother asked if we could stay for both games; from my perspective, we were doing fine, and I said yes without first checking to make sure we could make the necessary connections to get us back home. Though the Mets were stumbling toward the end of yet another dismal season, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Shea Stadium was a multipurpose facility that was built as a home for the New York Mets and New York Jets. Opening in 1964, it underwent MANY changes from that time to our first visit some 18 years later. When we first saw Shea in 1982, it was already looking a bit haggard, and at times unkempt. With a seating capacity of over 56,000, Shea was an open air behemoth. Because of its size, it lacked the intimacy and accessibility of the “newer” parks. When the team was bad (which was often), the place seemed empty, only amplifying the hugeness of the venue. However, Shea Stadium housed our favorite team, and when the Mets were playing well, the place would literally SHAKE, making it feel like home.
At times, when Shea looked more drab and lifeless than usual, I would refer to it as a “toilet” (which the smell would occasionally bear out). But it was OUR toilet! While the ushers were helpful and generally polite, the same could NOT be said of the concession staff. Aramark was the vendor at Shea for many years, and seemingly each and every member of that team was surly and uncooperative. That feeling was verified when we began traveling, finding that the behavior of the vendors at Shea was unique to that park. Conversely, the vendors that hawked the food and beverages through the seating areas were typically more helpful. Hearing the calls of the beer vendors at Shea on TV was one of my first baseball memories (BEER HERE!).
Located a mere three miles from LaGuardia Airport on the shore of Flushing Bay, players and fans alike were subjected to the seemingly unending air traffic during games. As winds turned to the south across western Long Island, the air traffic was routed directly over the stadium. That switch resulted in the roar of departing aircraft every minute or so (at least during the day). When this occurred, it was not unusual for players (especially visitors) to step out of the batter’s box and step off the pitching rubber to let the cacophony subside before resuming play. After a while, at least as a fan, you could begin to filter out the noise, or at least become accustomed to it; that was just a part of the experience.
We did not often go to big games in Mets history. Early on, just getting the Shea was difficult, and when the Mets were good, tickets were either difficult to come by, or we were priced out of the market. However, a few moments do jump out at me. Perhaps one of my very favorite memories was watching Tom Seaver strike out Pete Rose (then playing with the Philadelphia Phillies) to open the 1983 season. Others include seeing Kevin McReynolds hit not one but two walk off grand slam home runs, as well as the Mets winning the last game for us at Shea in 2008, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. Much of my joy was just seeing the games in a place I grew to love, even though my team was not good very often.
Of course, I could write an endless story when it comes to Shea Stadium. Far from the nicest ballpark we have visited, it grew on us over the years, and by the time it was ready to be replaced, I lamented its loss. Fans were unruly, stadium staff could be unpleasant, early season night games were almost interminably cold, and the team was not very good for much of the time we visited. Even with all of that, it maintains a special place on my heart. It WAS a toilet, but it was OUR toilet. RIP Shea Stadium!
Citi Field (2009-2015)
- First visit: Saturday May 9th 2009
- Most recent visit: Sunday August 16th 2015
Our first visit to the newly minted Citi Field (built in the parking lot of Shea Stadium) came on Saturday, May 9th 2009, about a month after the doors opened for the first time. While wandering around the ballpark, we noticed that the Mets denoted the locations of the mound, home plate and each of the bases of the recently departed Shea Stadium with plaques in the Citi Field parking lot. Featuring a much nicer exterior than Shea, it seemed as though New York Mets baseball had finally joined the 21st century. Entering the ballpark through the rotunda (which was a replica of the rotunda that adorned Ebbets Field), the Mets Hall of Fame is located to the right of the spiral staircase. A quick visit revealed various displays and exhibits, including a couple of Tom Seaver’s Cy Young Awards, as well as a nod to the 1969 and 1986 World Champions.
Following our excursion to the Mets Hall, we headed out to explore the new park. Unlike Shea Stadium, the lower concourse of Citi Field encircled the ballpark, allowing us unfettered access to the park. One of the most notable features of the stadium was Shea Bridge, located beyond the center field wall. Named as a tribute to William Shea, the driving force behind the return of National League baseball to New York City, the wrought iron bridge was immediately a fan favorite. Just below the Shea Bridge were the bullpens, with the Mets bullpen covered from the elements. In centerfield there were bleachers, something Shea never had, and above the bleachers was an impressive video board. Obviously designed as a Citi Field centerpiece, the video board was a significant upgrade to the video system located behind the left field wall at Shea Stadium. Completing the circuit along the lower concourse, we crossed behind the left field stands moving toward home plate.
Rather than follow the trend of the “newer” MLB parks, Citi Field was built with four decks extending from foul line to foul line. Accommodating these decks robbed the ballpark of intimacy, though many of the seats were closer to the field than Shea. In addition, only a portion of center field was open, with the remainder of the park enclosed by seats. To be fair, there isn’t much to see outside of the ballpark, but enclosing the stadium made it feel confined, reminiscent of the multi purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s.
After reaching the rotunda once again, we climbed the staircase to the 300 level, where we had seats just to the left of home plate. Not surprisingly, there was a good crowd for the Saturday matinee, and it appeared as though most of the 42,000 seats were occupied before the first pitch. While waiting for the start of the game, I was surprised to see all of the seats across the park were forest green. While I didn’t expect to find the seats colored by level (as Shea was), it might have been better to have Mets blue for the seat color. It then struck me that there was not a clear indication that Citi Field was the home of the Mets. Citi Field’s size and lack of character was disappointing. Clearly, this was our first glimpse of the Mets new home, but I was NOT impressed.
Unbeknownst to me, the first pitch that afternoon was going to be thrown by a member of Howard Stern’s SiriusXM crew. Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate was representing an autism awareness group, and graciously agreed to throw the first pitch before the start of the 110 PM contest. Dell’Abate confidently strode to the mound, toed the pitching rubber, and delivered the pitch. Unfortunately, the toss was VERY wild, hitting the home plate umpire, who was a few feet to the left of the plate. At first, I believed that Gary had intentionally thrown the ball that way, for comedic effect. Based on the reaction of the umpire, as well as the players on the field, it quickly become evident that the pitch was no joke. Dell’Abate appeared to shrug off the bad throw, waving to fans as he departed the playing field.
Thinking that the poor first pitch would be confined to Citi Field, Gary would later be horrified to discover that the pitch would become fodder for mainstream media. Any Howard Stern fan would tell you that Dell’Abate would receive the worst of the teasing from his compatriots, and that pitch is still celebrated on the show, more than a decade later.
While the ballpark was something of a disappointment (at least compared to Nationals Park in DC and Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia), it was a breath of fresh air for Mets fans, and hopefully a harbinger of good things to come. However, almost immediately I found myself missing Shea Stadium, as Citi Field lacked anything with which I could easily connect. The stadium felt almost sterile at times, and we found ourselves less drawn to this place as we were to its predecessor.
At first, we managed to attend a handful of games at Citi Field each year. As time passed, with little in the way of attraction to the ballpark, our visits became less frequent. Getting to Shea Stadium/Citi Field from NJ was never an easy task. Driving was far more trouble than it was worth, and taking the train to Manhattan, then catching the Number 7 subway to the ballpark often required three plus hours to complete (each way). Thus, a visit to Citi Field was a significant investment in time and energy, and eventually we would make the trek once a year (preferring to see the Mets in Philadelphia, which was closer and arguably offered a better baseball experience within the confines of Citizen Bank Park).
Our most recent visit to Citi Field was Sunday, August 16th 2015, to see the Mets host the Pittsburgh Pirates. As can happen during the summer, the game was marred by weather delays, as storms developed over the ballpark itself (providing an alarmingly close look at the lightning!), requiring us to take shelter several times during the game. We DID have tickets to Game 5 of the 2015 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, but quite unexpectedly the Mets swept the Cubs, and the game didn’t happen. Since then, we decided that the time and effort to see the Mets at home was not worth it, and have not been back.