Tag Archives: shea stadium

Citi Field, 4:12pm

citifield3Citi Field has a bad rap, I think, because people confuse the stadium with the mediocre (at best) team that’s played there for five seasons, and the hated ownership that pushed for the stadium’s construction. As far as I’m concerned, however, there are a few things to recommend the place.

I like that when I go to Citi Field, I see a New York that I recognize, and one I don’t see or hear about anywhere else. What this New York is, exactly, is difficult to express, which is part of the reason why you don’t hear about it. Another part comes from the fact that most people who write about New York are either transplants or move in lofty circles, and so they barely come into contact with this New York. And it would never occur to most of the people who are part of this New York to express what they are. As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing to express. It would be like asking a fish to tell you about the ocean.

I see a New York I recognize at Citi Field because the crowd there has diversity, an overused word but one for which I can find no suitable substitute. But that diversity is only a very small part of what I mean. For all these surface differences they possess, there is something shared among those who make up the crowds at Citi Field. You saw it at Shea once upon a time, too. It’s not Mets fandom, really. That’s part of it, sure, but fandom is only a reflection of something deeper.

There is a feeling that I get when I go to Citi Field, surrounded by the kind of people who choose to go to Citi Field, the kind of people I come from. I get this feeling nowhere else. It is an odd mix of nostalgia for the past and a jaundiced eye at the present. In those stands, you hear grumbling when The Opposition goes deep, or a shortstop lets a grounder zip through his legs, but the grumbles are accompanied by smirks. It has the unspoken undercurrent of, Did you really think this would work out?

And yet, all you need to do is run a video of Piazza or Gooden or Seaver on the scoreboard and the fans begin to nod reverently. And they’ll tell each other, I was at that game, even if the guy next to you was with you at that game. They must speak these words aloud because they can scarcely believe that they of all people were allowed to witness such things. They are people who are willing to allow that great, impossible things can happen in their lives. They just don’t expect them to happen any time soon.

I attended the first Mets game ever played at Citi Field, an exhibition against the Red Sox. I wandered into the Caesar’s Club that night, an enclosed bar/restaurant area behind home plate. There I saw people who got what they thought they wanted, a first class modern facility to replace outmoded, crumbling Shea Stadium, only to feel immensely confused. They were people uncomfortable with comfort. One man lowered himself into a lounge chair slowly, as if he was afraid it would disappear if he moved too fast.

Some say the iconic phrase coined by Tug McGraw in 1973, Ya gotta believe!, was originally said in jest to mock an exec making a lame clubhouse pep talk, that it only became a rallying cry when the Mets went from worst to first at the tail end of that season. I’d like to think this is true. It says so much about the people who choose to follow the Mets. It is a joke always threatening to become serious.

I like that when I left Citi Field on Sunday, the last game of the season, readying myself for a long winter, I caught a brief glimpse of something over the Promenade roof. I could see the relics of the World’s Fair in the distance, the Unisphere and the NY State Pavilion and the cone of a spaceship that once circled this earth and came back again. Those structures rose alongside Shea Stadium, at a time when people—in Queens of all places—still believed in the future.

My Best Laid Plans

redfoley.jpgAs a kid, I didn’t go to too many baseball games. My family lived a little too far away from the city and had just enough money to not starve, so games involved too large an investment of time and capital. We’d make it out to Shea maybe once a year, inevitably sitting in some of the stadium’s worst seats, way up at the highest reaches of the upper deck. The players looked like pinstriped ants, but I didn’t care. The experience was still special and amazing. I didn’t dream of going any more often, because that seemed so impossible to me

Whenever we went, I’d somehow scrape together enough cash to buy a program and score the game. No one taught me how to do it. I’d learned from Red Foley’s Best Baseball Book Ever, which my grampa gave me one birthday. Once upon a time, Red was the official scorer for the Mets and Yankees. I found the book really interesting, even if Red was unable to get MLB licensing, and all the stickers had bootleg team “logos”.

The last game I went to for a very long time came the day after opening day, 1993. My mom, two brothers, and grampa snuck in chicken cutlet sandwiches and sodas to avoid crushing concession prices. It would be a horrible year for the Mets–The Worst Team Money Could Buy–but we didn’t know that yet. It was also the second game ever played by the Colorado Rockies. They were shut out the day before, so I got to see the first ever Rockie run, home run, and RBI when Dante Bichette went deep against Bret Saberhagen in the seventh. I still was young and dumb enough to consider this Witnessing History. The Mets won anyway, 6-1.

Shea gave away Opening Day Weekend pins with little Mets and Rockies hats on them. I considered it a precious thing and put it with all my other precious things, in the top drawer of my dresser. It stayed there, untouched, forever. Years later, when my grandparents were both gone and I was cleaning out grampa’s dresser, I found the same pin, nestled against watches and retirement gifts.

Continue reading My Best Laid Plans

Remembrance of Promos Past

Though no pitches have been thrown in anger just yet, players are in spring training camps, and that excites me. Jose Reyes is running the bases, Johan Santana is throwing bullpen sessions, and Ollie Perez has managed to eat lunch every day without hurting himself. I haven’t seen footage of any of these things, but I know they are happening, and that knowledge soothes me.

But I got genuinely excited over something I saw yesterday. Matthew Cerrone at Metsblog posted this pic snapped at Port St. Lucie.

mets_rccola_bag.jpgWhat is that? Why it’s a stadium giveaway duffel bag, clearly sponsored by RC Cola, dating to the late 80s-early 90s. The sight of this thing was nigh Proustian in the memories it dredged up. But not of actually using the bag. Just of seeing ads for BAG NIGHT! at Shea, then seeing said bag used by classmates and townfolk for the next few years. It gave me the same feeling I get when I watch old commercials, and have phrases I haven’t thought of in years ring tiny little bells in my brain.

I wanted this to be a springboard for a post on other Shea Stadium giveaways from the same era, but sadly, the interweb information on such things is rather poor. You’d think some maniac out there would have compiled a site dedicated just to this, but you’d think wrong.

But there is some web-based evidence of RC Cola’s role in Mets history. The soda had a long, intermittent association with the team dating back to its earliest days. This was back when Shea had more small-time sponsors like Rheingold Beer and local Plymouth dealerships.

Oddly enough, they seem to have returned to this route at CitiField, where you now see ads for things like Arpielle Equipment, cash-for-gold web sites, and other second-tier businesses. Which seems kind of creepy and shady, now that I think about it.

It was a fitting partnership. RC Cola was always the shameful bronze to the gold and silver of Coke and Pepsi, while the Mets were the brand new “upstart” team in town. RC even tried to play up this connection, as you’ll see in this ad from the 1960s. A shapely young lady poses with an RC Cola in front of Shea Stadium, though the facility can barely be discerned behind her, or the giant fountain which must have once been somewhere near it (or the Worlds Fairgrounds, or the designer’s imagination). I get the destinct impression that baseball was not the focus of this ad.

mets_rccola_69.jpgOther than the duffel bag, the RC Cola promo I remember the most were these commemorative cans following the Mets’ 1986 World Series victory. Decorated in a gloriously 80s design scheme, these cans declared to the world, “I know how to jump on a bandwagon as I drink.”

mets_rccola_can2.jpgRC Cola’s association with the Mets continued into the 2000s, but ended by the time the last days of Shea rolled around (hence the Pepsi Porch at their new ballpark). I would lament this fact, but considering RC Cola is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes, they’re not exactly a mom and pop outfit, either.

Plus, I don’t wanna be one of those people who complains about the merits of essentially interchangeable junk food brands. The Wife and I once snagged fantastic seats for a Mets game, and sat next to a guy who wouldn’t shut up all night about how he hated it when Shea stopped serving Kahn’s hot dogs. I was too nice to tell the guy to leave me alone, plus he seemed like he might be borderline autistic.But my point is, if you can help it, don’t be that guy. Nostalgia’s great, being trapped in the past isn’t.

Warm Thoughts for a Cold Winter: The Walrus Game

Two years ago, as Shea Stadium counted down its last days, I wrote a few posts on some of the best games I attended there. However, I never quite got around to writing about my absolute most favorite game ever at Shea. Let me remedy that error now.

The year is 1991. The Mets are in the midst of their first losing, uncompetitive season in many a year (and the first of many, until Bobby Valentine righted the ship). They would end the year 77-84, which, in a few years, would seem like Shangri-la in comparison. They’re on their last homestand of the year, playing a series against the Pirates, who have already clinched the division (yes, 1991 was indeed a long, long time ago). Manager Buddy Harrelson would be fired with seven games left in the season. The outcome of these games mean virtually nothing to anyone.

My older cousin was going to college near where I lived in upstate New York. Said college had a big block of tickets for the last game in this series. Would I be interested in attending with him, even though it was on raw, rainy September night? Yes, I would be, because I hadn’t been to a baseball game in a very long time. Also, I was 14 years old and hating junior high with a deathly dread, and I hoped that I would get home so late from Queens that my mom would take pity on me and let me stay home from school the next day (though I knew she probably wouldn’t).

We traveled down to the city in a school bus, no lights or anything. I brought a book or two to read on the trip, but that quickly proved pointless. I also finagled some dough from my mom to buy a scorebook, which was no small feat, because we had no money for such frivolities. But my mom knew that I scored every game I went to and indulged me this one luxury.

However, I didn’t have any money for food or drink. Mom plied me with a sandwich and probably a Capri Sun (shut up) in a paper bag. Only in retrospect does this seem vaguely sad to me. At the time, it was a state of affairs I was used to–i.e., being dirt poor and just happy to be doing anything out of the house, even if it meant I had to bring my own food and drink.

91mets_cover.jpgThe state of the Mets at the time should be apparent by the cover story on the aforementioned scorebook: Rick Cerone, a pudgy Newark native and ex-Yankee catcher who was just keeping the dish warm for up-and-coming prospect Todd Hundley (a September callup that year who himself was profiled briefly in the same scorebook).

I’ve scanned a few other gems from this scorebook for your viewing pleasure. Here’s a page dedicated to the Mets Radio Network, with a pic of a young Gary Cohen possessing a full head of hair. Here’s a page on the Mets’ minor leaguers of note, led by Jeromy Burnitz, Butch Huskey, and Fernando Vina; the Rookie League Sarasota Mets were paced in batting average and RBIs by a young’un reffered to as “Ed Alfonzo”. And here’s a saucy ad for WFAN, featuring a painting by Mad Magazine artiste Mort Drucker. Mr. Drucker rendered Don Imus a bit like John C. Reilly, and was a bit too flattering to Mike Francesa (ie, didn’t make him look like a house), though he nailed Chris “Mad Dog” Russo’s cockeyed stupidity.

Our seats were in the upper deck, which at Shea was a steep, intimidating place. You could look down the stairways toward the field and feel as if the whole deck was getting more and more vertical every second, like the steps would collapse into a ramp a la some James Bond villain trap. You were always one wind gust away from plunging to your death.

You especially felt this way if the upper deck was not well populated, which it was not this evening. In fact, other than the group from the college (which couldn’t have been more than 25 people), there was nobody in the upper deck. I don’t mean there were very few people there. I mean there was literally nobody there. If you were looking at it from field level, it would have seemed even odder, since this one populated patch was halfway between home and left field.

The rest of the stadium was not exactly jam packed, either, nor should it have been. The two teams didn’t exactly trot out their A squads for this game, as my scorecard will attest. (It will also attest to my insane desire to chronicle every bit of the game. I know if you read this site, it’s hard to believe I can be obsessive, but it’s true.)

Then again, the game I attended was actually the second half of a day-night doubleheader. The first game–a rainout makeup from the previous day–was a four hour and twenty minute, 15-inning slog that must have exhausted and angered every single person involved in it. The Mets rallied in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game at 2, then, after the Pirates took a brief lead in the top of the 14th, tied the game again in the bottom half thanks to Todd Hundley’s first major league home run (which I also made note of on my scorecard). But the Pirates scored again in the top of the 15th. The Mets couldn’t rally a third time, and lost 4-3.

In other words, nobody wanted to be on the field, and anyone in attendance would have been some stripe of insane.

Slowly, the other folks who’d come down on the trip (who I don’t think my cousin knew well, if at all) drifted away from their seats, either to get beer or hot dogs or relocate. By the time the second inning ended, my cousin and I were the only people in the upper deck. We didn’t notice it happening, but all of sudden we realized we’d been abandoned. We had an entire tier of Shea to ourselves. It was awesome and terrifying, as if we’d been made captains of a ship that was just about to go careening over a waterfall.

My cousin suggested we travel downstairs. There were clearly plenty of seats to be had. I reluctantly agreed. I was totally happy to be one of two people in the upper deck, as scary as it felt. Because at this time in my life, I was as play-by-the-rules as Hank Hill. I would not break rules under any circumstances, and felt extremely guilty even contemplating doing so, even for a victimless crime such as this.
Continue reading Warm Thoughts for a Cold Winter: The Walrus Game

Lost Classics of the Stadium Riot Genre

The tweeting of JohnU alerted me to a blog post over at Mandatory Mustache which details a lost Mets-related punk rock classic from 1985 by a band called The Nightmares. I’m sorry it took me almost a month to discover it (the post debuted on April 14), but I’m glad I did, because it is awesome.

I’ll let the post speak for itself, but the gist is this: The Nightmares, a New York garage-y band, wrote a tune called “Baseball Altamont”, which detailed a riot that occurred in the Shea Stadium stands in 1984. They even had a record release party for the single in the Shea luxury suites, which is pretty friggin rad.

The song namechecks Keith Hernandez and Dr. K, and talks about “sitting up in the sky” in the cheap seats. I found that image particularly evocative, since I spent so much time in those cheap seats, which really did make you feel like you were 10,000 feet in the air. Especially if you sat in the very last section on either the left or right field side, hanging out over nothing. It was both exhilirating and terrifying. Oh, and you couldn’t see the game for nothin’.

I don’t have much info on The Nightmares, other than they were on Coyote, the same outfit that put out Yo La Tengo’s early stuff (fitting that they would share a label with another Met-inspired band). As you might imagine, a Google search yields a million other bands called The Nightmares who are clearly not this one. But the record sleeve shows them posing next to the historical marker in Hoboken where the first organized baseball game was (probably) played. Which is, again, pretty rad.

I also tried to look up some info on the riot in question. Not much luck, except for this remiscence about Opening Day at Shea by Eric Silverstadt, which appeared in The New York Times in 2004:

Twenty years to the day after the first pitch was thrown at Shea, I
returned for the home opener in 1984. Ron Darling was the starter, and again it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. I slipped away from my job as an NBC page on ”Late Night With David Letterman,” expecting the Doc and Darryl Mets to bring life back to the ballpark. Although the 1984 team won 90 games, what happened that April afternoon could only happen in New York, and perhaps, only at Shea.

The Mets were losing, 10-0, to Pete Rose and the Expos in the seventh inning. Most fans had already bolted. This must have included some members of the New York Police Department because during the seventh-inning stretch, a riot broke out in the left-field bleachers. Tire irons, broken beer bottles, fists flying, bodies tumbling. The culprits? Passive Met and Expo fans? No. Ranger and Islander fanatics, still fighting a week after a brutal playoff series ended with an Islander overtime goal in the fifth and deciding game of the Patrick Division semifinals.

Not sure if this is the event which inspired the tune. Although if it is, ‘hockey Altamont’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.

In any case, give it a whirl and enjoy.

Shea Shea, Blown Away, What More Do I Have to Say?

Pour some criminally overpriced Bud Lite on the curb tonight for Shea Stadium, which officially ceased to exist earlier this morning.

I’ll miss the dump, don’t get me wrong. I saw my first baseball game there, and saw some incredible games there (both in the good and bad senses of the word), but I am more than ready to see games at Bernie Madoff Field.

My only fear is that the fan experience won’t be enhanced at all. Because the aesthetic deficiencies of Shea were only part of the reason why it was not a great place to watch a game. You judged your game-going experience by how few things went wrong. It was a successful day if your beer wasn’t 90% foam, or if you didn’t watch a vendor sigh and huff because you asked them for a pretzel.

Sure, the new ballpark is supposed to have spiffy restaurants, games for the kiddies, and other neat amenities. But that won’t mean much if said amenities are run by the same incompetent, apathetic morons who ran Shea’s concessions.

It’s not that I need extra bells and whistles to enjoy a game. I’d watch the Mets in the middle of an active volcano if that’s where they played. However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that, when you pay a lot of money to enter a ballpark, your customer service experience should never be described by words like “insane,” “frustrating,” and “ordeal.”

If you want a glimpse as to how the Mets treat their fans, look no further than Jason of Faith and Fear and Flushing, and the condition of the genuine Shea seats he ordered. That’s how the team treats treasured memorabilia bought by loyal fans at $869 a pop. You can extrapolate from there how they treat folks who spend a mere $15-20 dollars for a hot dog and a beer.

My Best Games: I’m Allowed to Go to a Playoff Game?

After writing my kiss-off to the immortal (?) Jeff Kent, I realized that Mr. Kent played a small role in the top three games I ever saw at Shea Stadium. I broached this topic a few times two years ago, though I never got quite as far as I wanted to. And now that Shea is all but rubble, the time has come to pay my last respects.

After dismissing or ignoring baseball for a good chunk of my high school/collegiate career, I got sucked back in by the ridiculously ridonkulous year of 1999. That remains my favorite Met team that I definitively, distinctly remember. 1986 had better results, but I was barely aware of the game at that point. 1969 and 1973 both made the mistake of occurring before I was born. 2006 seemed like magic when it was happening, but has become more and more depressing the more time passes.

1999 was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. It was like a carnival ride that whipped you around in the air a little too hard, and shook a little too much to be safe, and had lots of loose exposed bolts, and was run by a wild-eyed carnie on crank. There are some nights I wake up and I still can’t believe that it all ended on a bases loaded walk. And yet, I can totally believe it. How else could that year end–in a fair and probable manner? Pshaw!

Continue reading My Best Games: I’m Allowed to Go to a Playoff Game?

We Can’t Have Nice Things, Can We?

I know Satchel Paige said don’t look back, but for days it was all I could do. I was obsessed with the signs of doom for the Mets that I chose to ignore. Not on the field. I wish I could have ignored those, but I would’ve needed to gouge out my eyes and get a lobotomy. I mean signs from my life.

Because going into the last game at Shea Stadium, I was sure that the Mets would pull out a win and at the very least force a one-game play-in game against the Brewers. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind this would happen after Johan Santana’s unbelievable performance against the Marlins on Saturday–a three-hit complete game shutout on three days’ rest after throwing more pitches than he’d ever thrown in his professional career while secretly suffering from a TORN FUCKING MENISCUS.

But now I look back and see the little signposts thrown my way, and I realize the Mets were doomed.

* * *

On Saturday, I stood on the 7 train platform, shuffling nervously, wondering how Santana would respond to the pressure and the fatigue. At least they’re playing the Marlins, I thought. Not because the Marlins were a cupcake team, but because the Marlins always ensured a more pleasant stadium-going experience.

Continue reading We Can’t Have Nice Things, Can We?

My Best Games: The First One

Loving a sports team is like being in a bad relationship. Your own happiness takes a backseat to whatever The Team feels like doing. They’ll do things that they know will piss you off, simply because these things will piss you off or, even worse, because they haven’t the slightest idea of what will piss you off. They’ll put zero effort into your interactions, because they’re so confident that no matter what kind of evil, thoughtless garbage they pull, you’ll never even think of leaving them. Nobody deserves abuse, but if you’re free to walk out that door and you don’t, there’s gotta be a part of you that wants the pain.

The Mets’ current listless play is certainly not the worst I’ve ever witnessed. It is, however, as disgusting an imitation of baseball as I’ve ever seen from a team that’s supposed to be good at the game. It’s one thing to lose a lot of games in a short period of time. It’s another thing entirely to lose them because you’re putting as much passion and effort in the endeavor as you would put into washing your socks.

In a bad relationship, you will justify shitty behavior by remembering the good times. He’s not all that bad, you tell yourself. Remember the time he drove my mom to the doctor and only held it over my head fifteen times later?

So as I try to rationalize my love of a team that has suddenly become unwatchable, I will now remember games I’ve attended in the past. This, I hope, will help me forge anew the chains that bind me to a team that is currently doing very little to earn my fealty. I’ll start from the very beginning.

Continue reading My Best Games: The First One