Another summer at Perry’s. I can’t. I swear.
—Stacy Hamilton, Ridgemont High School, 1982
I will not tell you how dreadful Wednesday night’s loss to the Cubs was. You can infer that for yourself; you probably already have. I will not dwell on the eerie fact that at the exact same juncture in 2007 — the 158th game, a Wednesday — the Mets also scored five early runs and also lost 9-6. I won’t even try to sell you on the notion that you can have a spectacularly great time in Shea Stadium’s Picnic Area with some incredibly wonderful people up to if not including the moment Daniel Murphy is stranded on third base in a tie game in the ninth inning after having arrived there with nobody out. I did have a great time until I had a horrible time Wednesday. Since you presumably only had a horrible time watching the Mets disintegrate, I won’t bother you with what I managed to enjoy before all manner of my anatomy was tasered by failure.
Instead, I have something more cheerful for everybody.
Forget everything you know about the 45 years that followed April 17, 1964.
Forget how the bright and broad hopes of a toddler franchise and its newborn ballpark fell away into something dreary and dismal as the ballpark was condemned and the franchise operated in farce.
Forget that Shea Stadium was home to the worst collapse in baseball history one year and a paler yet somehow sharper sequel the next (Janeane Garafolo once recommended never going to see a movie whose trailer features the line “how the could the same thing happen to the same guy TWICE?”).
Forget that 1986 was 22 years ago.
Forget that the same people who have been begging you to indulge in a Final Season celebration will effortlessly shift gears any moment now to emphasize there’s nothing like Inaugural Season merchandise to make your life complete.
Forget how mad you are at the Mets this morning, or how sullen they’ve made you or how upset you were when Wright lunged to swing at ball four and Church tapped out and Castro waved at a pitch in his eyes and Ayala couldn’t hold off the Cubs forever and Oliver Perez couldn’t have come up smaller and there’s still no bullpen and now there’s no righthanded bench and the Phillies lost and we couldn’t take advantage and the Brewers won and they’ve probably bottomed out and the Mets and only the Mets would find a way to ruin the last day ever in their ballpark by getting themselves knocked out of playoff contention in incredibly embarrassing fashion for a second consecutive year, two epic episodes of exacerbation which occurred/are occurring on the heels of a heartbreaking National League Championship Series defeat that — by comparison to what’s happened since — can be referred to with a straight face as the good old days.
Remember what Shea was like when it opened and how happy we were to see it. I mean we as a people since not so many of us were around and watching on April 17, 1964. If you want to feel the love, go not to Bermuda, but to Bob Murphy. Our Murph called the first half-inning in Shea Stadium history 44 years, five months and a week or so ago. My friend Joe Dubin gave me a copy of the broadcast a while back and I’ve listened to it several times. It’s a marvel. As a Shea farewell gift to all of us, I have transcribed that first half-inning.
Thus, you can do what was impossible to do when Wednesday night ended…
From beautiful Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York, the New York Mets are on the air.
Well, hi everybody, this is Bob Murphy with Lindsey Nelson and Ralph Kiner, all set to detail every exciting moment of the historic opening of Shea Stadium as the New York Mets meet the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today’s game is brought to you by Rheingold Extra Dry and Viceroy Cigarettes.
Well, we hope you have plenty of Rheingold Extra Dry on hand. You’ll enjoy today’s game even more wherever you’re listening along the Rheingold beat. Rheingold is as good to your taste as it is to your thirst, Rheingold after Rheingold. Smoother, crisper, livelier.
Bob kicks it to Lindsey who, as on-field emcee, promises “the proper traditional sendoff” to the home season: the singing of the national anthem by “that star-spangled baritone of the Metropolitan Opera,” Robert Merrill, backed by the City of New York Department of Sanitation band. It’s the “one song dear to the hearts of all of us.” After a break, Bob is back.
Casey, near home plate, his ball club on the first base line; Danny Murtaugh and the Pittsburgh Pirates on the third base line.
This game might very well be a complete sellout. Right now, there appears to be still some seats available in the Upper Deck, but on this beautiful, almost unbelievably good day, it is going to be very close to a capacity crowd of fifty-five thousand three-hundred.
Ninety-six percent of the seats are within the foul lines, you’ve gotta see this stadium. Every seat is a beautifully painted individual seat, the stadium, which is five-tiered in a horseshoe form, is open on the centerfield end. The giant Rheingold scoreboard is over in right-centerfield. The green batter’s eye, straight away, out behind the low fence, four hundred and ten feet away. The only thing to be seen in left-centerfield, other than the cars across the way in the parking lot, are giant light standards.
There are only two light standards, they are both in the outfield, one in left center and the other in right center. The rest of the lighting, and it is almost unbelievable, it is almost as bright as day if not brighter, comes from the cantilevered lighting under the very top of Shea Stadium.
We then hear the anthem. Then Murph.
Well, just about everything has been taken care of, Bill Mazeroski, Pirate captain, with the lineup slip, Casey Stengel there along with Mazeroski. The umpires today, Tom Gorman behind the plate, he’s the crew chief of this fine umpiring team, Billy Williams will be at first base, Vinnie Smith umpiring at second and Chris Pelekoudas will be the umpire at third.
Jack Fisher throwing in his final warmup tosses on the mound. Setting up the Mets defensively, the first baseman is Tim Harkness, Larry Burright at second, Sammy Samuel at short and Ron Hunt will be at third.
In the outfield, Frank Thomas in left, Jim Hickman in center, around in right field George Altman. Jack Fisher on the mound and behind the plate, Jesse Gonder.
On the coaching lines, Mickey Vernon, former Washington manager, coaching at first base for Danny Murtaugh, and Frank Oceak will be on the coaching lines at third.
And the leadoff batter in the ballgame is Dick Schofield, switch-hitting shortstop of the Pirates, and ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready to go.
You can imagine there must be a lump in the throat of twenty-five year-old Jack Fisher, the Frostburg, Maryland native as he looks in the for the first sign ever taken in the twenty-five million dollar ballpark named Shea Stadium.
This is it.
Jack Fisher is into his windup and here’s the first pitch ever…a strike on the outside corner.
The roar comes up as the first pitch ever thrown in this beautiful baseball palace is over. Perhaps the tension now is broken, and the game is underway.
Jesse Gonder walking slowly, back toward the mound. Out in the outfield, the outfielders are checking their sunglasses; the breeze not really too much of a factor in the game, kind of blowing diagonally from right across toward left.
Three hundred and forty one feet down the foul lines to the wall. The ballpark is symmetrical. Three fifty-eight in left center and right center.
Here’s the pitch on the way, a curve inside and low, one ball and one strike.
The dimensions of the ballpark as the fence swings out, three fifty-eight in straight left, three seventy-one in left center, out near center three ninety-six and four hundred and ten feet in straightaway centerfield.
Next pitch thrown, and he pops the ball up to short center field, running back is Larry Burright, Burright getting to it, makes the catch.
One away and nobody on, we’re in the top half of inning number one, just underway on a historic day. Now the hitter is Bill Virdon, the centerfielder.
Bill, veteran outfielder, one of the outstanding ballhawks in the major leagues, has two hits in eleven times at bat in the first two Pirate games.
Now Ron Hunt shortens up at third against Virdon, a lefthand hitter, to guard against the possibility of the bunt. Here’s the pitch on the way, strike called, a fastball on the inside corner.
Sammy Samuel, the shortstop, shaded toward second against Bill Virdon, the right side of the infield back deep.
Now the windup, pitch by Jack, a curve, foul, back into the crowd and there’s the first souvenir. Kind of a soft foul ball, wafted back into the field boxes, and the gentleman who gets the coveted souvenir is also given a hand.
He can say “I caught the first foul ball ever caught by a fan in Shea Stadium.”
Now a two-strike count on Bill Virdon. Now the windup, and the pitch by Fisher…slow ground ball to third, charging in is Ron Hunt, barehanded pickup, the peg…he got him!
Good fielding by Ron Hunt, that was one of those topped slow rollers. Hunt had to come in at full-speed, pick the ball up with his bare hand, fire all in that same motion and he got him.
Now two outs and nobody on, one of the top hitters in the National League, Roberto Clemente. And Roberto off to a fast start with four-for-eleven in two games, hitting at three sixty-four.
Clemente a righthand hitter, real good bad-ball hitter and he has a lot of power to the opposite field.
Curve is over at the knees, strike one.
Last year, Roberto hit three-twenty. Had seventy-six runs batted in. Without a doubt, one of the best ballplayers ever acquired in the baseball draft.
A little under the knees, one ball and one strike.
Well, this is certainly some kind of a day. We’re sorry you couldn’t be with us, the excitement almost unbelievable. Tremendous crowd, I think by the time everybody settles down, it’ll be very close to a capacity.
Now Fisher out of his windup, the pitch to Clemente, lined hard, but it will be foul deep down the leftfield line.
In Shea Stadium, not too much room in foul territory. The distance from home plate to the backstop not nearly as large as in some major league ballparks, a fact that will not please the pitchers, but will please the catcher.
One ball and two strikes to Roberto Clemente, two outs and nobody on. In comes the pitch.
Reached for and fouled toward the Upper Deck and it’ll be out of play. And that one goes all the way to the Upper Deck!
You gotta hit a ball pretty high to spin it all the way to that upper tier.
And ringing around beautiful Shea Stadium, the five-tiered, twenty-five million dollar ballpark, we see many of the familiar “Let’s Go Mets” banners.
I have a feeling that a lot of the airplanes in the area are taking a purposeful trip over the stadium today to give the people a chance to see it. And you can’t blame ’em.
Now one and two the count on Roberto Clemente. Now Jack Fisher over the head, down comes the pitch, in the dirt, scooped out by Jesse Gonder, and the count even, two balls and two strikes.
Gonder did an outstanding defensive job behind the plate catching Tracy Stallard in the Wednesday night game in Philadelphia. Stallard pitched out of one tremendous jam when he had a runner on third and only one man out. He was trying…going for the strikeout and Gonder, not once but upon three occasions, came up with that curveball down in the dirt.
Now Fisher winds for the two-two delivery…a swing and a miss, he struck him out!
No runs, no hits, no errors, none left on. And the score in the middle of the first inning, the Pittsburgh Pirates nothing and the New York Mets coming to bat.
Well, this is the big one, no doubt about it. This is the one we’ve been talking about, dreaming about, waiting for. Opening Day at Shea Stadium!
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So it went on that Opening Day of Opening Days (and can’t you just feel April when you read that and put it to Murph’s voice?). We’d learn in the bottom of the first that official scorer Dick Young is one of the most talented sportswriters in the country; that the 9,000 field boxes sit on tracks so they can be rolled around for Jets games and become 50-yard-line seats; that there are some problems with the big message board in right-center and it will no doubt take two or three games to work out the kinks. The only thing missing from Bob’s, Lindsey’s and Ralph’s broadcast of the Pirates’ 4-3 win that day was a two-word phrase: Polo Grounds. Not once did they mention where the Mets had played in 1962 and 1963. They were not selling the past. They were selling the future, a time when 96% of seats were between the foul lines…a share that must have dipped a tad with the eventual erection and subsequent expansion of the Picnic Area, which is where I saw the hope seep out of the 2008 season Wednesday night. I suppose it’s understandable that all the emphasis on April 17, 1964 would be not on what was lost, but what was found, namely an unbelievable ballpark.
And in four days, this place that made its debut 473 days after I did is scheduled to be no more. That stark reality, above and beyond the breathtaking futility of these past two Septembers even, is as unbelievable as anything I know about Shea Stadium.