If you care at all about baseball – and even if you don't – stop whatever you're doing and go HERE to read Tom Verducci's Sports Illustrated cover story about the last days of Yankee Stadium. This incredibly moving piece – and I say that as a well-documented New York Mets fan – is written from the perspective of the Stadium itself, sharing a few of its greatest moments and secrets and telling the reader how it'd like to be remembered when it's torn down this winter to make way for its state-of-the-art replacement.
The last game at Yankee Stadium was last Sunday. The final day was filled with emotional tributes to the House that Ruth Built, the home to more great moments in American sports history than any other place. Seven days later, as an afterthought to most, the Mets will say goodbye to Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium's redheaded, blue-walled stepchild, the House that No One Wanted to Take Credit For. Most people outside New York won't notice – many people inside New York won't notice – but for the proud few like myself, who have rejoiced there or – more frequently - suffered there, it will be a sad day. For those of you who have no attachment to baseball or the parks in which it is played think of your favorite place in the world. Then imagine being told you can never go there again.
You'd have to be an idiot to claim that Shea Stadium is even half as important as Yankee Stadium in the macro view. It's been home to two winners (three if we want to count the Jets) and a couple of very famous concerts by The Beatles and that's about it. Small potatoes when compared with 26 championships, the greatest football game ever played, and three papal visits. It's both buildings' final seasons and I've run into many people who have gone out of their way to make a pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium, to see it one last time (or one first time) before it's demolition. Even my mother, who hears the phrase "baseball diamond" and assumes you're talking about a really big rock, went to a game and took the walk through Monument Park. In contrast, nobody except true Mets fans are making a final trip to Shea. I know: I've invited people. They could care less.
But the Mets, much like the Brooklyn Dodgers before them, are New York baseball's loveable losers, and it befits them to play in a park equally lumpy. The Dodgers were affectionately known as "Dem Bums;" someday, we may look back at Shea with fond remembrance as "Dat Dump." And it certainly is a dump. Every inch of the concrete is cracked and dirty and no matter how long it's been since the last storm, puddles seem to accumulate everywhere. The food options, particularly in the upper deck where I spend most of my time, are laughably limited: if you're not into overcooked encased meats you're gonna be awfully hungry by the seventh inning stretch. Huge patches of seats in right field offer stunning views of the left field stands and absolutely horrendous sightlines to home. If you've got a Loge or Mezzanine seat more than ten or twelve rows back, I've got good news and bad news: the good news is if it starts to rain you'll stay bone dry; the bad news is that's because you're sitting under an overhang so severe you'll think you're watching the game through a slit cut in the bottom of a cardboard box. To say nothing about the team itself, which tonight suffered yet another heartbreaking loss; scoring only once with the based loaded on the eighth, and not scoring at all in the bottom of the ninth after the leadoff man reached third base. Watching New York Mets baseball is both thrilling and hazardous to your health; every game is exciting because no game is out of reach for the opponent. In tonight's game, they led 5-1 before losing 9-6. This sort of come-from-ahead loss has become the norm for a bullpen that leaks more (and stinks worse) than a corroded port-o-john.
The team will continue on, though one hopes with a better core of relievers. But for Dat Dump this weekend is the end of the road. And despite all of its problems, I will miss it dearly. It's where my parents took me to my first major league baseball games, where I learned my first taste of the brutal sting of defeat after the Mets suffered a crushing late-inning defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers (as we've seen tonight, it was a taste of things to come). I can still remember the awestruck reaction I had when I first saw the massive neon figures that ring Shea's exterior at night: now they look a little hokey but to an eight or nine year old kid they struck a chord. This place, and the people inside it, they told me, were larger than life.
I've gone to one playoff game, a victory in game one of the 2006 NLDS, and one Mets-Yankees game that ended with a walkoff hit in the bottom of the ninth for the Mets. I've seen two big concerts there: Bruce Springsteen, on the last night of The Rising tour (Bob Dylan made an appearance), and Billy Joel at his "Last Play at Shea" (with a guest spot by Paul McCartney). I've even got some regrets; though Melissa and I have talked about doing it for years, we never saw a game from the left field bleachers. Now we never will.
The Mets new home, Citi Field, is the silver lining in a dark cloud but it comes with a literal heavy price. Everything there will be more expensive than it was at Shea, including the seats themselves, the glorious days of $5 tickets in the upper deck for games against the Nats die with Dat Dump. And while I'm looking forward to Citi's Blue Smoke BBQ, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and the rest of the (fairly pointless) amenities, I honestly would rather still have Shea. That's where my memories are. And that's what baseball is about.
Sweeney and I will be at the final game this Sunday. We'll file a report.
Labels: New York Mets