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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Apples and Oranges

Well, at least you boys'll get to see the old manse, the home where I spent so many happy days in the bosom of my family, a refugium, if you will — with a mighty oak tree out front and a happy little tire swing.

Ulysses Everett McGill

Right now, our favorite ballpark is the former Thomas J. White Stadium, Tradition Field, whose tradition is primarily that of luring a baseball team from an actual city to what is still reportedly the middle of nowhere. Actually, until the end of the month, our favorite field is whichever one on which the Mets are preparing to back up their garrulous centerfielder's bold prognostication that his team will be successful (ah, February). Wherever they've got Kevin Burkhardt doing sitdowns with Olmedo Saenz will be fine with me.

That's all we need right now, Port St. Lucie and whatever grass it presents on TV. Come April 8, however, we'll have two ballparks on our radar, Shea Stadium and Citi Field.

Judging by the proliferation of pictures and the corporate happy talk, Citi Field could be easily mistaken for a park in full once Shea's last Home Opener rolls around. I erred on the side of the future myself last September when my buddy Rich drove us to a game and found us a space right near the entrance — to Citi Field. For about three seconds, I was thinking, “Great. We won't have to walk very far at all…” until I realized the entrance he got us close to was the one that won't be unlocked until April 2009. That thing was going up uncomfortably fast last year and it shows no signs of stopping now.

As long as it's inevitable, I sure hope Citi Field both kicks and seats ass in pleasing proportions. Whether they're including enough chairs for the common folk we won't quite know for a few years, after the excitement of the newness wears off. I've sat in enough empty Shea Stadiums to know that there was a time when drawing 20,000, let alone 50,000, was an accomplishment. It doesn't seem like the greatest planning in the world to offer up a ballpark with 80% the capacity of the incumbent at the very moment the Mets are routinely drawing the biggest crowds of their life, but I imagine the bizheads who planned a 42,000-45,000 capacity knew what they were doing, or at least decided they did when they drew this bricky baby up. There's probably a formula underneath a pile of papers on somebody's desk that explains why goosing demand with lesser supply for the next several decades beats filling the demand that 2007 and 2006 and a few other very good years in the past proved exists for Mets baseball. Maybe whoever is assigned to that desk remembers those lonely nights in Flushing as well as some of us do.

We'll see if we can get a seat in '09 and get a sense by oh, '11, whether we are condemned to a lifetime of SRO or, once the Mets take a break from their Johan-powered dynasty, attendance levels off with performance. When the Mets have one of those seasons when the collapse comes in April instead of September (not that that will ever happen again, no sir), we'll have our truest test of whether Citi Field is magnetic or just there. You've seen games from the new parks across America. You've seen that in places where the team is no good that the park isn't a draw after a while. You know those are smaller towns with smaller budgets and — knock southpaw wood — that kind of decline won't happen here, but, well…you know. And we'll see. Maybe none of us will be fretting that we can't get seats down the line. If it's a function of subpar baseball, that won't be such a great fret to be rid of, but at least we'll know who the front-runners were by their eventual absence.

Let's hope that it is an attraction, though. Let's hope it's a showplace. Let's hope it's the best ballpark in town (the other one in another borough ain't shaping up too badly), not just a faux-neighborhood park in a neighborhood conspicuously devoid of neighbors. Maybe I've just stared at the sonograms of the unborn ballpark for so long that I've come down with a premature case of Citi fatigue, but a little bit of me has already transitioned from fearing the future because it obliterates the past to fearing the future because it might not be as swell as has been hailed.

Will Citi Field, even with its overbearing homage to Ebbets Field, kick ass? Will it be unique? Will the fan who's been to plenty of ballparks think, “Now this is something I've never seen before?” Will the fan who's been only to Shea or even the fan who's never been to any ballpark think, “Gee, this is pretty awesome?” I guess what I'm wondering is will this be one of a kind the way PNC and Pac Bell were when they broke previous molds or will this be our version of new Busch Stadium, which is the Cardinals' version of Citizens Bank Park, which is the Phillies' version of Minute Maid Park…and trace it all the way back to Camden Yards, which remains one of a kind no matter who else hauls it to Kinko's and copies it?

You could do worse than take your cues from Camden Yards (or Ebbets Field), but how many you take determines the ohmigod factor, your mouth hanging open when you walk in, when you look around, when you have nothing to say but ohmigod…and not because the toilets have overflown again. There are good new parks, there are great new parks, but there are few ohmigod parks. Will Citi Field take our breath away? Seeing as how it will take my Shea away, it had better.

Shea is the park we're going to see a lot more closely in 2008, of course. Shea is the only one of the two off Roosevelt and 126th that will be open for 81 ballgames and one concert. Shea is the one that goes away at the end of the year. Shea kicks ass this season no matter how poorly the plumbing works.

On that happiest of Wednesdays two weeks ago when Johan the Magnificent was introduced in his spiffy new top, I took a beat out from my elation to feel an involuntary chill. Over Santana's shoulder, on the wall of dancing logos that no team can conduct a simple Q&A without, was the insignia the Mets are plastering on everything this season: SHEA STADIUM 1964-2008. It wasn't the first time I'd seen it but it was the first time I really looked hard at the dates and realized how final it appeared, how this isn't one of those logos that celebrates an anniversary, how it's one of those logos that accurately forecasts a death.

Oh the finality.

I'm mildly impressed that the Mets have gone to the trouble of sewing those patches on their jerseys, that they showed the imagination to acknowledge Shea used to look different from how it does now. Obviously there is sentiment to milk and merchandise to sell, but they could have opted for a different route. They could have sewn on a COMING IN 2009 patch. They could have sold the space to Citi. They could have gone with some sort of hologram, so depending on the angle at which you view a player's right sleeve, it would have switched from a picture of Shea to an image of Citi to (718) 507-TIXX. I wouldn't have put it past them.

But they didn't, and for that I am grateful. When you know the date of death of a member of the family so far in advance, I suppose you're thankful for small favors. I was quite thankful that at the press conference announcing the Billy Joel “Last Play at Shea” that a couple of Met executives stood and said nice things about the old joint without reflexively putting in a plug for progress. It would have been unbecoming. I certainly wouldn't have put that past them.

In 1990, as the Chicago White Sox pounded their drums on behalf of state-of-the-artistry and reminded every White Sox fan how lucky he or she was going to be to get a new Comiskey in 1991, they conveniently remembered that the original Comiskey, from 1910, still existed and could still be make for a targeted sales pitch. Douglas Bukowski, author of the wonderfully rueful Baseball Palace of the World: The Last Year of Comiskey Park, a day-by-day diary recounting the death of the home where he spent so many happy days in the bosom of his family, noted on August 16, 1990 that the White Sox program cover of the moment featured the caption, “AS THE SUN SETS ON THE BASEBALL PALACE OF THE WORLD.”

“A sentence fragment here is bad form,” Bukowski added, “so let's finish it: 'Stadium Officials Are Getting Excited over that New Parking Lot that Will Go North of 35th Street.'”

Now let me be fair. The Mets are sinking a whole lot of money into Citi Field. It is the current regime's baby. They didn't make the call on Shea's multipurpose nature two generations ago. They didn't design its football-friendly contours. They're the ones who work there every day. They're entitled to be more excited about what they're building than what they're tearing down. Still, my insides churn a little bit every time I read quotes like this from the team's COO:

“There isn't that much of Shea we want to bring over. Shea was a dual-purpose stadium in the '60s, and it served its purpose.”

Lord, that kind of dismissiveness makes me cringe. The admittedly “not that nostalgic for Shea” Jeff Wilpon is trying to build a dream house and I support it being as dreamy as possible, but do ya have to be so blunt about it? Do ya have to write it off with one season of unmade memories to go? If this were a nominating contest, your new park is McCain and your old one is Huckabee. Your guy has won. Be gracious. Just say, “Shea'll be great in '08, Citi will be superfine come '09″ and leave it at that.

To offer pesky context, Wilpon was confirming the Sheaiest of Shea totems, the Home Run Apple, will magically reappear at Citi Field, but was a little hazy on whether it would be the 1981 Apple that's been bobbing up and down gamely for nearly three decades of dingers or a more highly polished apple to be named later. Since a speck on the Citi CGI has always been devoted to what appears to be an apple (if you squint), it wasn't really news when it hit the wires as such last week. Nice to know somebody's thinking about it though.

There's been a groundswell of support to move and maintain the Apple we know and occasionally love. I think I signed the heartfelt petition at SaveTheApple.com to be neighborly about it, but I don't know if I really want the '81 Apple to remain on the active roster in new surroundings. For goodness sake, save it, display it, do something respectful with it (if it doesn't disintegrate on contact; if you've ever leaned over the right field seats to get a good glimpse at it, you know that's not fresh fruit that's been ripening out there in the sun all these years). Don't toss it into the same Dumpster-brand trash bin with our memories. Save the Apple? Absolutely. Transplant the Apple for another three decades of dingers? I'm not so sure. Citi Field deserves its own memories, its own furniture, its own knickknacks, even its own produce. (Besides, if we're going to save a piece of Shea, I say we save all of Shea.)

In the meantime, we'll get 81 more bites of our big juicy blueberry of a ballpark — more if we're lucky; add one if you got through for Billy Joel on Saturday — and each one will be worth savoring because once they're all gone, it will be all gone. The Mets won't be shy about selling us Shea even as they prepare to remove it from our grasp. They won't be the first to traffic in and profit from sentiment. And I won't be the last to buy in.

BUT THIS WILL BE FREE

Tune in tomorrow for an important FAFIF announcement regarding our own tribute to the final 81 regular-season games scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium and how YOU can be a part of it.

14 comments to Apples and Oranges

  • Anonymous

    So I gotta wait a whole 'nother day to find out what this big announcement is?
    To quote Ginger Culpepper, “I have this biscuit dough in the oven, so tell me, tell me!”

  • Anonymous

    HI Greg,
    It only hit home a few days ago that in less than a year we will drive past an empty space that once housed the home of our wonderful summers and innocence of youth.
    Knowing that we will no longer be able to see (even during the cold, grey blustery months of winter) the playground we shared with Casey, Kranepool, Swoboda, Seaver, Kooz and the miracle of '69 sends a chill down my spine.

  • Anonymous

    It's always been a happy little ritual for the family, when we drive by Shea in the offseason, to sorta say hi, see you soon. (We have a different, gesture-centric ritual when traversing the Deegan.) I imagine it'll take some time to feel the same affection for the new joint.
    I've only been to two of the “new” ballparks – CBP and whatever they call the new Comiskey. My reaction to both was “Wow, these are really nice”, was impressed by the huge concourses and actually edible concessions, and that was about it. I've only been awestruck by two parks – Fenway and (especially) Wrigley.
    The reduced seating capacity is to create an artificial shortage and juice demand. Fearing sellouts, fans will be more likely to buck up every March for tickets, rather than assume they'll be able to get them a week in advance (or on Game Day) and then not bother if the weather (or team) stinks. It's also cheaper to build and maintain. It certainly wasn't a goofy oversight.

  • Anonymous

    I've said it before: nothing about CitiField impresses me. Nothing about it stands out and says “wow, this is different!” The main thing lacking is a view past the field.
    I myself have been to 7 parks. Out of those 7 I can say: CitiField physically cannot dupicate the “omigod” factor that Fenway has because it hasn't been around for 90 years. It can't duplicate PNC or Camden Yards because you don't look past the field and think, “wow”. It doesn't have that “somehow this is unique” feeling Skydome has. True, it may not be as dumpy as the terminally-ill RFK was. But it certainly isn't the symmetrical heaven of Shea. You know how I imagine the “CitiField Experience” would feel like? Yankee Stadium. And despite the propoganda MLB loves to spew at us, that isn't a good thing.
    It's enclosed. There's nothing particularly fancy about it. No unique feature. No history. I look at CitiField and think, “how is this different than the new Busch? How is it all that different from CBP? How is it different from “Progressive” Field (formerly Jacobs field–WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?)?” Have we entered the new era of cookie cutters? Perhaps not. The Padres, A's, O's, Giants, Reds, Tigers, Pirates, Nationals, and Twins all got it: we need to have something unique about this ballpark, be it a skyline view, a brick building, a waterfront, or cherry blossom trees. People need something to stare at when they can't bare to watch the travesties on the field any longer. As for myself, I've spent quite a few night in the upper deck squinting in the distance to see what was playing at College Point Cinema.
    Why do I have a sinking feeling that in 2030, just when we finally begin to love CitiField (or whatever name it will be called by then), Joe Wilpon will be prepping for a skyline/bridge view in DUMBO?
    Not that I'd be against an amazing Manhattan skyline view (unless it was a view from Hoboken), but that makes me ponder the question: why not just do that in the first place? And if not, why not give Shea another 10 years when the cookie cutter shape becomes “classic”? Shit, I wouldn't be shocked if in 20 years some team opens a “retro” cookie cutter that gets rave reviews.
    It just bugs me that there's nothing fancy at CitiField. Sure, the outside of the stadium is classic, but really–who cares what the outside looks like? Then again, there's nothing fancy about Shea. We just love it because it's always been there for us. I don't know what's like to have a parent die, then have the other parent re-marry, but I guess it feels something like this.
    I hope I'm wrong.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing about it stands out and says “wow, this is different!”

    I quibble with you slightly, Kevin.
    The overhang in RF looks intriguing, it seems to have a lot of odd OF angles and there's even another nod to the Polo Grounds with the staircase that seems to be going up the outside of the park on the RF side.
    Quite fankly, I can't wait for the thing to open.

  • Anonymous

    What, the Mets cynical? Nah, no way!
    It's not just the approximately 13,000 fewer seats, but it's the distribution of them, as noted by Stuart Miller, author of The 100 Greatest Days in New York Sports, last October in the Times:
    “These playgrounds for the rich and corporate are a fact of life in all modern ballparks so it’s not worth whining about them, but the current plan features only about 33,500 seats for the public. In other words, the team is adding nearly 25 percent more luxury boxes but shrinking by 22 percent the number of seats for the average fan.”
    33,000…that's more or less the capacity of Ebbets Field more than a half-century ago.

  • Anonymous

    I'm hesitant to pass aesthetic judgment on a final product that doesn't exist, but other than the Ebbomania out front and a few touches like the planned overhang, I wonder where the daring and innovation is (besides in the presumed pricing structure).
    I've been to 31 Major League ballparks, 30 of which have made for an entertaining anthropological/architectural outing and one, Shea, that I really care about. I've always said if the Cardinal fan enjoys Busch III and the Phillie fan enjoys CBP and so on, who cares what some tourist like me thinks? But now one of these retro deals will be on permanent display for us and I'd like to think it will be incredibly special, not just something that catches up with what's come before it. And I don't know that it won't be, for it ain't here yet. If you looked at an early rendering of OP@CY, you'd see they planned to mutilate the warehouse. You don't know until things are complete.
    But if the drawings made my mouth water, I don't think I'd wonder about it all that much.

  • Anonymous

    I hear you guys. I have a small shred of excitement as well. I just can't help but think how much I'd rather keep Shea, and how hard it's going to be to learn the new ballpark. Tickets are going to be hard to come by, and even when you can secure them, they're going to cost a fortune. The days of “hey, it's a great pitching matchup tonight. I think I'll do a walk-up for a $10 Upper Reserved” are over. Hell, walk-ups in general will be pretty scarce in the coming years. That gets me upset. The walk-ups are a big deal for me.
    But I will learn to live with it, just as I will hopefully learn to love CitiField once I've seen it for myself. All it will take I suppose is one great game, and it will build from there. I just have to be patient (which is unfortunately something I am not good at).
    I have to keep reminding myself this one thing: the corporate season ticket plans are favored over the average Joe and Jane Blows because the Mets want to make money. More money means bigger superstars. Bigger superstars hopefully translates into winning teams. And since I watch most of the games from home anyway, is it all that devastating to not be able to attend 20 games a year if it means the Mets are more likely to be World Champions? It isn't.
    All that being said, if the Wilpons revert back to keeping the wallet closed, then we've got a serious problem.

  • Anonymous

    If we want to enjoy easy access to a stadium where a moribund team plays mediocre baseball, we could be Cub fans! I think 3/4 of the crowd at Wrigley is there to drink, socialize and hook up. “Hey, look over there – I think the game's starting!”

  • Anonymous

    I really do wonder what will happen if this team bombs out in the new park? How long will they be able to feed off the novelty of a new home?
    The last thing- I would think- the current regime would want to see is this recent bunch of fair weather fans be tested with a string of shitty seasons..
    A beautiful new place next to a dump..Well lets keep the dump as our ONLY connection to the past. Let the heartless scumbags that run the team drive past it every day…
    Rich

  • Anonymous

    Not that I'd be against an amazing Manhattan skyline view (unless it was a view from Hoboken), but that makes me ponder the question: why not just do that in the first place? And if not, why not give Shea another 10 years when the cookie cutter shape becomes “classic”? Shit, I wouldn't be shocked if in 20 years some team opens a “retro” cookie cutter that gets rave reviews.
    Ballparks traditionally face east, Kevin. Imagine hitters facing a setting sun.

  • Anonymous

    I know, that's why I said DUMBO. You put in in a position to face north and still get some of the skyline. If it's gotta be Northeast, you'd still get the Brooklyn & Manhattan bridge.

  • Anonymous

    Surely the technology exists to place Citi Field on something of a Lazy Susan so that the sun is guaranteed to shine in Chipper Jones' eyes whether he is batting, fielding or naming more children.