Didn't love the All-Star result, but I'm always happy to see Phone Company Park. Not that we haven't seen it, but it's a call worth placing any time. Baseball has done the right thing two straight Julys, bringing its showpiece first to Pittsburgh then San Fran. For sheer attractiveness, I think those are the two most beautiful settings in the sport.
Well, those and Shea.
As you probably know, the next All-Star Game will be in New York, but on the wrong side of town. The only way I can imagine slogging through that sycophantic media tonguefest will be to have National League manager Willie Randolph guide a squad led by Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Maine and five or six more Mets to a rousing victory. The Mets and their N.L. colleagues will celebrate, but our contingent will tell you it's nothing compared to winning the World Series last fall.
Anyway…we don't get a second All-Star Game at Shea the way things stand now. We got one when we opened and we've had to stay satisfied with that. It's been reported, however, the Mets will host an ASG in 2011, more likely in 2013, at Citi Field.
I have a better idea. The Mets should host the All-Star blowout at Citi Field in whichever year MLB gives it to us. And they should host it at Shea Stadium. Game and home run contest at Citi. Celebrity softball and some sort of pitching-based skills competition at fair and symmetrical Shea.
For that to happen, you'd need both ballparks. To which I say, but of course!
This is about more than an All-Star Game, though. It's about saving a precious piece of our heritage. It's about a simple enough proposal that I've been mulling for months, one that won't happen but, honestly, maybe ought to.
Let's build Citi Field. Let's keep Shea Stadium.
Imagine that. Imagine the Mets as the only ballclub in the entire realm of baseball to claim not one but two home fields. Talk about a home field advantage!
I'm not crazy.
OK, I might be crazy but it made perfect sense to me in April when the notion first hit me where else but at Shea when I was in the upper deck with my friend Laurie. We were enjoying not just the Mets beating the Rockies but the drop-dead gorgeous view of Queens-glorious-Queens from Section 1, Row H. Damn, I said, this is just too perfect to destroy.
I believe — and my focus group (Laurie) agreed — this two-ballpark plan will satisfy any number of constituencies. It speaks to issues of heart and practicality. If executed well, CitiShea could be a revolutionary revenue-generator for club management. Since they rightly have an interest in making money, how could they not love it?
Build Citi Field to completion but keep Shea Stadium.
Why not? Parking? Who needs adequate parking? Seriously. The Mets are drawing, on average, 44,320 per date in 2007. Remember when it was a big deal for the Mets to draw 40,000 to a given game? When it was a good sign that the Mets could get 25,000 on a weeknight? That's not a problem anymore. Give the people a good team and they will show up in record numbers. They will countenance whatever hassles you put in front of them, including a lack of parking.
Mets fans as a people have already adapted to the lack of automotive accommodation. It's become a badge of honor for chronic drivers that they know just when to leave home, how early to arrive and where their secret route or nook and cranny nobody else knows about is. For the rest of us, throw on a couple more trains, fix the Willets Point station and it will be barely remembered that we used to have a zillion more spaces. (Besides, Ebbets Field didn't have much parking.)
The site where Shea Stadium sits is due to become a parking lot by Opening Day 2009. Can you think of anything sadder, the ballpark where you fell in love with your team not only not existing any longer but giving way to a constant reminder that it doesn't exist? Mark it all you want, it doesn't help. There's a simple, tasteful home plate diagrammed in the parking lot of U.S. Cellular Field marking where the real one stood. It says, if I recall correctly, COMISKEY PARK 1910-1990. Lines extend out from where the plate was, as if bordering an infield constructed of asphalt and eternity.
I saw this on my last visit to the South Side of Chicago and I nearly cried literally on the spot. I have to admit that though I'm not a White Sox fan I did love old Comiskey, so it's little wonder I felt that way. But I had no love for Veterans Stadium, yet a couple of weeks ago when I saw the parking lot it had become, my baseball heart ached more than I would have thought. Thirty-seven years ago Philadelphia set out to honor those who fought and died for their country by naming its new sports facility in their memory. Now that honor has been reduced to a plaque.
A plaque and a parking lot…what do you think Joni Mitchell was trying to tell us anyway?
So let's not to do that to ourselves. Let's not pave over our 1964 paradise. But let's not be dead-enders either and deprive ourselves of a potential PNC or Phone Company. Let's be flexible about this.
Let's have our Field and Shea it, too. Both, baby. Both.
Your next question may be whatever for? Why are we building this state-of-the-art blahblahtorium if we're gonna keep Ol' Leaky around?
Glad you asked. I've got a multipoint plan:
1) The Mets move their operations to Citi Field.
2) The Mets play at Citi Field 75 dates a year.
3) The Mets play at Shea Stadium six dates a year.
Of course you use Citi Field has your primary home park. You just went to the trouble of building it, you're not going to pot plants in it. But what's the one overriding complaint you've heard about Citi Field from everybody who's read the fine print? That it will have not enough seats.
All that great attendance we were touting earlier will go by the wayside as of 2009. Crowds of more than 45,000 (seated crowds of more than 42,000) will be a thing of the past. Never mind how it looks in the agate. It will look like nothing to thousands of Mets fans every day because they will have no look whatsoever inside Citi Field. The noble concept may be to promote Ebbetsy intimacy, the bottom line goal may be to juice demand, but whatever the intentions, the truth is there will be games for which each of us (who isn't a full season ticketholder) has made it into at Shea that we stand a far lesser chance of seeing at Citi.
I'm willing to accept a little “oh well, that's life” here. The newer parks I think are so neat, PNC and Phone Company, do not hold 56,000 seats. I get the idea that being (or at least feeling) closer comes with a price, and not just whatever the market will bear. Bigger seats, closer seats…fewer seats. It's not ideal. It's not at all ideal unless you're inside. Fewer of us will be on every given day.
So let's promote a little feelgood expansion, shall we? Let's keep Shea around to host six games annually, one per month. Let's open the season at Citi, a guaranteed sellout, but let's revive Opening Day II and hold it at Shea. Make a big deal out of it like the Mets did in the mid-'80s with Rodney Dangerfield. Bring in Kevin James or some other regular-bloke entertainer to do self-effacing shtick. Manufacture some more magnetic schedules. What's the harm? You just made 11,000 or so Mets fans happy who would have otherwise been put out and put off.
That's April. In May or June, you bring one of the Subway Series games back to its roots and hold it at Shea. Figure out a way to make the 56,000 seats available to 56,000 Mets fans (I know they haven't done that yet, but assign a task force). Imagine how cool it would be to face down the Yankees with two ballparks. Imagine the cred we'd have all over America. Gee, I thought the Yankees were the big deal in New York, but the Mets have TWO stadiums. They must be the balls in that town! With Yankee Stadium, even restructured the-Bronx-is-boring 1976 Yankee Stadium, out of the picture, we'll have aesthetics, critical mass and tradition working for us. Whereas they'll just have Not Really Yankee Stadium, we'll have all kinds of options.
In June (or May, depending on the Subway schedule) you hold one of your concert-type nights at Shea. Merengue Night. Irish Night with green caps and Black 47. Doesn't have to be geared to any one international theme either. Bring in a panoply of Mets-loving performers. Bring in Yo La Tengo. Bring back the Baha Men. Make it a 4 o'clock start and sell it as a doubleheader of baseball and music. The place will rock, honoring the heritage of both the Mets and the Beatles.
July? Fireworks night. You can have two. One at Citi, one at Shea. People love fireworks. I don't much care about them, but many do.
August? How about a day-night, two-ballpark doubleheader? I mean two ballparks we can stand to be in on the same day. And make it a festival. Reinstate Banner Day and turn it into a joyous parade that exits Citi Field and enters Shea Stadium to herald the night portion of our twinbill. (Separate admissions will be required — this is a dream, not a fantasy.)
Come September, save one divisional date against that year's prospective rival of rivals and make them extremely uncomfortable. Imagine jarring them from the plush clubhouses and modern amenities of Citi Field in the middle of a series and sending them back to the jungle that is Shea. If the Mets are in a race, fathom the fervor of the fans who have been locked out of Citi finally getting a shot at the Braves or Phillies or Marlins or Nats just like in the old days. “God,” you can just hear Larry Jones saying, “I thought we were done with that place. It completely threw us off our stride. It's horrible. I can't hit there once a year. That's it. I'm retiring.”
There. Six games. That wasn't so hard, was it? Maybe you charge 10% less than what you charge at Citi. Or, what the hell, charge 10% more. Think about the cachet this half-dozen will have. “The Shea Games” will be must-see. The Mets can construct a whole new six-pack to sell — the Tradition Pack. Other than the Yankees and the September rival, you can serve up any old opponent and it will be a bona fide event. What longtime Mets fan would pass up that rare opportunity to take in a game at Shea? To show a son or daughter where Jose and David got their start? To point to the precise location of where a magic ball went through a first baseman's legs and to confirm that it really happened and that it wasn't a bedtime story Daddy made up? To remember the good old days while experiencing some great new days? (We could do that just by sticking with Shea alone, but that's a whole other moot point.)
One team, two parks is both a new idea and a proven oldie/goodie. I can think of two examples. One comes from Cleveland. Remember Municipal Stadium a.k.a. Cleveland Stadium a.k.a. the Mistake by the Lake? It was built in a fit of civic pride, perhaps in anticipation of the 1932 Summer Olympics coming to America's North Coast. That didn't happen. But there was this big ol' 80,000-seat stadium just sitting and waiting. In came the Indians to attempt to fill it…most of the time. See, the Tribe had long before set up its wigwam at smaller League Park in a different part of town. So for a dozen-some years, the Indians split their time. Municipal Stadium got the big gates, some night games, all the holidays and so forth. Day games, run-of-the-mill games, other what-have-you games were at League Park.
The Indians didn't win a blessed thing while this was going on, but they did use two parks as a matter of course. It has happened.
How about a better, closer-to-home — physically and spiritually speaking — example? How about those Boys of Summer certain modern-day owners obsess over enough to build them a permanent shrine? Yes, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Fred Wilpon's youth did not play all their games at sainted Ebbets Field even when Ebbets Field was their home. In 1956 and 1957, Dem Bums played one game per N.L. opponent, seven a year, at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. It was essentially a scheme by Walter O'Malley designed to get New York's attention and show hey, you wanna see us play more games west of the Hudson? You ain't seen nothin' yet.
Roosevelt Stadium was part of a shakedown which, depending on your view, either didn't work for O'Malley (because the Dodgers wound up in Los Angeles) or worked like a charm for O'Malley (because the Dodgers wound up in Los Angeles). Either way, it was one team with two stadiums. And we already know, because we're reminded constantly, that the Brooklyn Dodgers were the balls in this town.
CitiShea isn't nearly as nefarious as EbbetsVelt. It's got all the Dodger dust with none of the posturing. The Mets aren't leaving town. If anything, they'd be putting down the most solid roots you can imagine in Flushing Meadows. They'd have two homes on the same block. Now that's big love.
I should get back to the multipoint plan, because you might be wondering if we're going to keep Shea around for a grand total of six games (the Tradition Pack…can't you just hear the ads?), what about the rest of the time? That's a lot of space being taken by an edifice that isn't doing all that much and a lot of upkeep for something not generating more than six dates' worth of action.
4) The Mets open Shea Stadium's upper deck during certain home games at Citi Field.
Remember what I said earlier about the view? It really is too good a view to let go to waste. Seriously, when I sat up there in late April, warm night, beginning to stay light for a few innings, there was no better place to be. You didn't even need the game that much. But you need it a little.
So here's the next phase. On select nights when you're fairly certain the weather will hold out and you know there will be a sellout with overflow interest in what's going on next door, take advantage. Sell seats in the portions of Shea's upper deck that provide a great view of DiamondVision for, say, five bucks. Instead of having crappy seats to watch the field, you'll have awesome seats to watch the screen. You'll get all the baseball from next door plus a wonderful sense of closed-circuit community and camaraderie. (For all we know, you'll be able to peek into Citi with a good pair of binoculars.)
The key is limiting the seat sales. You don't want to put too much of a strain on Shea. If Shea could handle the strain (or had been better maintained for four-and-a-half decades), management might not have felt the need to move. So don't strain Shea. Close off everything but the upper deck and cordon off the terrible upper deck seats. That way you concentrate on making the escalators run and the bathrooms up there work. You sell a limited supply of food and drink, maybe just packaged stuff that doesn't need to be cooked (or warmed). Have staff around for emergencies and to empty the wastebaskets, but otherwise you can go with a skeleton crew.
Picture it. You want to see the Mets. You're dying to see the Mets. But Citi Field's all sold out…again. Well, let's go next door. Let's go to Shea. Let's go upstairs. We'll have a great look at the big screen and the out-of-town scoreboard (gotta keep that), we'll bring a picnic, we'll yell LET'S GO METS! It will beat sitting in a bar or at home.
5) For a handful of dates, allow fans on the field at Shea Stadium to picnic and watch the games from next door on DiamondVision.
Same principle as stated for the upper deck. You do this a few times during the summer, preferably weeks before the monthly Mets game that will take place on the Shea field. Charge ten bucks a head. Cordon off the infield, but let families enjoy the outfield (it's a city park, after all). Keep it policed, remind everybody that the Mets will be needing this grass in a couple of weeks, you don't want to ruin their chances. Otherwise, bring your own blanket, bring your own refreshments, bring your radios tuned to WFAN and enjoy a Major League game from a Major League field. Who else's fans will be able to say they can do that?
As in the upper deck scenario, you won't just be tracking a game on television. It will be like you're there because you're so close to it. You'll be a part of a like-minded crowd. The visiting team will feel like its wandered into an echo chamber.
It can be fun. It can be raucous. It should be raucous. New ballparks, with their inherent hoity-toityness, are notorious for their unintended tamp on enthusiasm. You've just moved in, it's hard to feel at home. Keeping Shea around bridges the hellraising gap. When the Citi slickers hear the noise coming back at them from Shea, they won't feel compelled to hold back either. There will be good vibrations this way and that.
6) The Diamond View level at Shea will be converted to house the long-awaited, long-needed William A. Shea New York Mets Hall of Fame and National League Museum.
No longer stuffed in a closet, the Mets' Hall of Fame comes alive. An entire level of the stadium celebrates Mets' history. The Diamond View suites each host a different permanent or rotating exhibit. The Diamond Club becomes the museum cafeteria (sandwiches and such catered by nearby restaurants, again saving the strain on Shea's delicate infrastructure). Spotlight the Mets' history where most of it occurred. Once the luxury boxes, the restaurants and the paeans to the Dodgers are erected at Citi, there won't be much room for that sort of Mets thing anyway.
Seriously though, every effort should be made to connect the various pasts and the present and the future. The two parks are so close, maybe there's a stylish bridge, an actual bridge, that could be built. Part brick, part neon or one that pays homage to the Triborough or Whitestone. Linking Citi and Shea tells everybody this is OUR history, the entire scope of it. Here's the new park that looks like somebody else's old park because that old park that belonged to somebody else laid a foundation for our team, and here's OUR old park, the one our franchise grew up in. One is a park in the traditional sense or what we think of as traditional. The other is a stadium that was OUR tradition. This is what baseball looked like in ZIP Code 11368 for 45 years. We don't have to show you pictures. It's here. Revel in it a little.
The rest of the time, give Shea back to the people. Bring in more high school ballgames, area soccer leagues. You're not going to want Citi Field to be trampled on for such lowbrow activity anyway. So keep Shea around and let it be used and loved a while longer. It's the sundry stuff that's been killing Shea. So eliminate the sundry stuff. Don't make it handle 45,000 people a night. Don't challenge the plumbing. Don't plug too many appliances in at once.
But scale it back gently. Staring into a parking lot and thinking there used to be a ballpark here…it's sad enough to know there are apartment complexes where the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field stood. At least we don't walk by them, except perhaps in the mind's eye, when we go to Mets games. When I was at Citizens Bank, I bought a DVD heavy on Connie Mack Stadium footage. I never went to Connie Mack Stadium, it was in what was no longer a desirable neighborhood and I don't like the Phillies, but seeing the plot of land where a baseball cathedral once stood now being used for something else…that was sad, too.
Now I'm leaning on sentimentality, which isn't nearly as theoretically practical as what I've suggested, but why else would anybody float a pipe dream to preserve a place like Shea Stadium if not for sentimentality? A couple of months ago in the Times, Jeff Wilpon dismissed Shea as “a dull, dingy place”. Oh sure, now he tells us.
Funny, I don't remember anything dull or dingy about it last October.
Tell you what. Let's try the two-park plan for a year. Let's see how it works in 2009. If nobody wants anything to do with Shea in any capacity, then forget it, pull Big Blue apart and pull that SUV into that space right over there where Ron Hunt and Ken Boswell and Felix Millan and Doug Flynn and Wally Backman and Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Valentin each flagged down ground balls in his respective day. I think it was one of the bases. Maybe. I dunno.
Park there enough and maybe you'll forget anything ever happened on this side of the Citi Field wall.
(I have another scenario in which the entirety of Shea is converted to condos — easy access to mass transit and Mets games! — but that's a fallback position.)