Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 358 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.
7/25/07 W Pittsburgh 14-12 Gl@v!ne 15 189-153 W 6-3
No doubt that by Opening Day the Mets and the MTA will team to install a sturdy pole and a good strong rope to serve as a replacement for the subway platform extension they have torn down to make way for progress. So it’s not like something will be replaced by absolutely nothing. But something’s definitely missing with the removal of that extension, its staircases, even what we can rightly term the original rotunda in Flushing, Jackie Robinson’s emerging handiwork notwithstanding.
It wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t airy. It wasn’t efficient. But it was round and it was where everybody sooner or later gathered, either for a fleeting moment en route to baseball or for too long trying to cram your way past your fellow travelers in order to beat them home. The most time you ever spent purposefully in its unfriendly confines was to buy a MetroCard, hopefully before the game (good luck after). As token clerk postings go, the Shea Stadium cage would certainly have to be rated one of the more unique: placed literally in the middle of the action, lonely for several hours and then mad rushed at the end of the shift.
Yet there was a sense of place in that structure, genuine Shea Stadium iconography — older than the Home Run Apple and a touch more reliable. In reality, it didn’t work very well. In memory, all it has to be is there.
When you think of the platform extension, you’re likely to think of upstairs before you think of downstairs. Even if you never once took a 7 train to Shea Stadium, you knew about upstairs from watching TV, from those inevitable “the crowds are still coming in” shots. Maybe all that foot traffic was why the orange seats seemed so unoccupied as tonight’s starter took his warmups.
The platform was also your ticket to free baseball, or at least a healthy glimpse for the price of a subway fare. My happiest moment as a press-junketing attendee of the U.S. Open was listening to the early innings of a Mets-Padres game during the one match I consented to sit through and then bolting back toward the subway to do what always seemed so exotic: watching the Mets from behind the scoreboard. “Just one pitch,” I told Stephanie. “I want to see one pitch from up here.” On that pitch, Lance Johnson doubled. Had an unobstructed view of him pulling into second, courtesy of that platform. With that, I turned away toward the train, partially absolved for what I considered the sin of going to the tennis stadium while the Mets were in action.
If I was running late for a game, I’d usually ditch the platform and come out on the other side of Roosevelt Avenue. I don’t know if it was any faster, but it seemed slightly more direct. The rest of the time, I grew to enjoy the ritual of the platform extension. Though one friend sniffed that it was best left for “tourists,” I’d say welcome aboard to anybody touring Queens. The platform presented one of the most picturesque vistas in New York. I wonder how many photographs through the years have been explained away with “…and this is Shea Stadium where we got off the train — you can kind of see it behind that big guy in the Mets cap carrying the bag.”
Sometimes I’d stop and window shop at the kiosk that used to be a newsstand and peruse the pins and the pennants. I don’t think I bought more than a couple of items there all these years, but I liked the idea that there was commerce up there. The only other thing you could get your hands on was a Jews For Jesus pamphlet. I preferred the pins.
Once down the staircase and out the turnstile (which, despite its physical removal in ’07, I never once didn’t brace to push upon completion of my descent), it was out of the dark and into the light of approaching Shea, melting into the army of those similarly avoiding the aggressive entreaties of MasterCard, Newsday and Kozy Shack. That was generally that until the ride home, when the less you saw of the rotunda and the staircase and the platform extension, the better.
Except for a little arrangement I had worked out with my friend Mike Steffanos, a.k.a. Mike of Mike’s Mets. When he and I decided to make our maiden mutual voyage to Shea Stadium in 2006, Mike had been out of practice at gamegoing. He lives in distant Connecticut and, I believe, has a life, thus he wasn’t instantly familiar with the nooks and crannies I favored as specific meeting spots outside Shea. How about, he asked, if we meet by the subway entrance? He knew for sure where that was.
I thought about it for a moment. You can do that? You can meet somebody there? I guessed you could, if you got there early enough not to be trampled.
It worked! I don’t know why I would have thought it wouldn’t have. Just seemed too simple, I guess. Yet at six o’clock for a 7:10 start, there aren’t that many people around. You can surely pick out your friends.
Late last July, our second game together, I arrived a little before him and used the opportunity to traipse across the truncated right field parking lot and case as much of the new joint as I could. Citi Field was finally taking shape. It was the first time I saw two ballparks where I had always seen only one plus a construction site, where I will always see two, no matter how many there actually are. Curiosity satisfied for the time being, I hustled back to the subway entrance — the rotunda — and found Mike loping down the last of his steps. A local had masqueraded as an express, he apologized, otherwise he would have been here sooner.
No problem, I said. After seeing the Future Home of the New York Mets, I was quite comforted to find a familiar face in this very familiar space. Of all the things I thought of in December after learning of the demise of the platform extension, the one that stuck with me the most was Mike and I have to find a new place to meet.