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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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When the Future Has Its Say on Shea

While my curiosity and maybe even my enthusiasm regarding the next ballpark where any of us has yet to see a ballgame inches ever wider, I used Wednesday night as the launching pad for my latest trip in the other temporal direction, to the team I never saw and the park where I never saw them. Both were as alive and well as they could be on a Wednesday night in 2009, which means that it was another New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society night in Riverdale. I try not to miss those nights seeing as how I missed the days that made them necessary.

Our guest speaker was a truly passionate historian named Peter Laskowich, filling us in on all kinds of nooks and crannies of New York baseball lore, such as why the clubhouses at the Polo Grounds were situated in center field (geology), why you couldn’t take a trolley car to where a team named for those who dodged trolley cars played (politics) and why Manny Ramirez and Vin Scully have more to chat about than Manny’s money (they’re both from Washington Heights). Peter traversed both big picture and minute detail, and should you ever have the opportunity to take one of his classes or tours, I recommend it highly. Peter can tell you about the old Polo Grounds; he can tell you about old Ebbets Field and its transit-deprived predecessor Washington Park; he can tell you about Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders as well as that place where the Highlanders wound up after their decade stopover at the Polo Grounds.

He can probably tell you about Shea Stadium, if you ask, but it never occurred to me that Shea Stadium would ever require a historian to explain it. Shea Stadium was a living, breathing organism until quite recently. It was a carnival, a playground, a town square set down conveniently in a parking lot.

Now it’s just a parking lot, and everything else about it no longer “is” — it’s all was.

Well, shoot, we know that. We know they finished playing at Shea Stadium and they finished tearing down Shea Stadium and that Shea Stadium has already received orientation toward its celestial incarnation. But hanging with those New York Baseball Giants fans Wednesday night drove home all over again that the Shea Stadium that operated on Earth is history and that Shea will eventually be one of those places that somebody will need somebody else to explain.

Everybody at our dinner learned something about the Polo Grounds from Peter Laskowich, but not everybody needed Peter Laskowich to explain the Polo Grounds. Our Nostalgia Society is brimming with members who saw the Giants there and they will never forget what it was like. In the restaurant where we gathered, those folks were in the majority. Outside Josepina’s of Riverdale, they are relatively few. The Polo Grounds is the stuff of history a mighty long time now. Someday, it will be strictly historians who can give you the fullest account possible of that place.

Nowadays, that’s not the case with Shea. Everybody alive who has ever been to a Mets home game has been to a Mets home game at Shea Stadium (save for a handful of hardy cranks who washed their hands of the whole thing by September 1963 and not counting those cameos in Monterrey and Tokyo). There is no shortage of us.

Soon enough, as any actuarial table can tell you, our ranks will diminish. It won’t be a substantial reduction at first, not for a very, very, very long while. Total attendance for Mets games at Shea between 1964 and 2008 was close to 100 million. Even accounting for those of us who went more than once, that’s a lot of people. Somebody’s going to be at a dinner or a luncheon or maybe a breakfast of New York baseball devotees I don’t know how many decades from now and there’s going to be somebody who went to Shea Stadium.

At some point, though, there will be fewer and fewer, and Shea Stadium’s existence will grow more and more distant. Details will dissipate and facts are bound to fog up. Shea Stadium will require an in-depth explanation on the scale of its ancestors. Historians who want to give a complete picture of the old ballparks of New York won’t be able to treat Shea as a footnote after all the ancient stadia have been covered. Shea will be, for all intents and purposes, as ancient as the Polo Grounds, as Ebbets Field, as Washington Park.

It makes me wonder what history, once separated from euphoria-tinged comparisons with that which is new and shiny, will tell those who ask about Shea Stadium. While I didn’t know until Wednesday night that Manhattan schist made the building of traditional clubhouses prohibitively expensive, I have picked up a few foundation facts about the Polo Grounds over my years of fascination with it. I do know that certain games constituted its signature events, that certain architectural quirks made it stand out from its peers, that its location in place and time made it very special to those who saw games there. Yet I can only imagine what it was really like, in the way those of us who saw games at Shea Stadium will always know what the historians will only piece together.

So tell me — what do we tell the future about our old ballpark, the one we saw but it never will, so the future can get its story straight?

There’s history and then there’s intense personal history, such as that you can read when you pre-order Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other fine retailers.

16 comments to When the Future Has Its Say on Shea

  • Anonymous

    The Mets New Home is the Anti-Shea
    So says the Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/sports/baseball/05stadium.html?_r=2&hp
    What do you guys think? I guess we'll have to wait and see. I won't be back till June, so I might know Shea, gone and buried, but until summer, it'll be Citi Field that I've only heard stories about.

  • Anonymous

    I'll run with Ron Swoboda's after-the-fact take on New York baseball in the mid-60's: “Going to a game at Yankee Stadium was like going to a funeral. A game at Shea was like a jazz funeral.”
    Rocky's been living in the Big Easy for awhile (and had been when he made that comment, roughly 15 years ago), so he would know about such things…

  • Anonymous

    I can't separate myself from Shea yet. I'm really looking forward to the new park, but until I've actually sat there, and really feel that the Citi is home, all my baseball memories are Shea.
    I can't wrap my head around 'was' yet. In a couple of weeks, or months, I'll better know what I can say about Shea. All I know for sure is that it'll include the phrase “I wish you could've seen it.”
    I just started theorizing on when Citi Field will feel like home. (Thanks for updating my link btw.)

  • Anonymous

    We tell them, “don't listen to anyone who says it was a dump. Shea was marvelous. It was not a place to go to sample foods of the world, it was a place to experience Mets baseball in all its glory and horror. For those with passion for the blue and orange, there was no better place to be.”

  • Anonymous

    Actually, It might be a lot like telling your kid about your first love, who's not their mother.

  • Anonymous

    What do I think? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

  • Anonymous

    Greg, since you're asking, I just want to say that I've just written a book that is my attempt to answer exactly this question. One of the chapters is even called “A Letter to the Future” and the whole book is a letter to the future about Shea and about what it was like to go to a game there. I just put up a new website for the book, “The Last Days of Shea,” which will be out later this summer. Between your book, which I can't wait to read, and mine, and a few others, I think that people are going to have some idea of what it was like. Now we need to convince the Mets that these were experiences that should in some way be commemorated somewhere in the new stadium.

  • Anonymous

    To answer your question more directly: Obviously none of us know how Shea will be perceived in the future because a lot will depend on how things develop with Citifield. If the vaunted intimacy is nice, and doesn't just become plain old exclusivity, we won't be quite as nostalgic about Shea. But if Citifield just becomes a party venue for the rich, then Shea will acquire a powerful meaning as a symbol of what we have lost. The amount of success the Mets have in the new stadium will also affect how we feel about it. Look, for the rest of our lives, those of us who loved Shea will feel nostalgia for it, no matter what happens. In my book, I've tried to preserve a sense of the way the dear old place felt when you went to a game there. But our nostalgia will either be a nice wistful emotion, or it will be something that expresses a sense of loss and perhaps anger. We won't know what will happen until it happens. I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping that Citifield will also be, as you say of Shea, “a carnival, a playground, a town square, set down conveniently in a parking lot.” If it is, I will be so happy, and I am now genuinely excited. But as a Mets fan, I am never entirely surprised when things don't turn out as I had hoped.

  • Anonymous

    I guess we say that Shea clung to the waning era preceding the frigid grip of hyper-commercialized baseball. And that it was a place to watch a baseball game, not to eat cuisine at cloth-covered tables or play video games. And that it was big and loud and colorful, and if it didn't have cup holders, at least it shook with us when we were excited. And that it was cold in the spring (and the fall, if we were lucky) and it was hot in the summer. And that we knew it was ours, because the visiting fans would groan at the roaring airplanes, and we would just smile.

  • Anonymous

    Beautiful comments like this make me wonder if I will ever accept CitiField.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. It reads a bit like the writers at the Times had never been to Shea, but only heard tell. Hey, the Yankees can keep their media over-exposure.

  • Anonymous

    I agree Kevin. Michelle said it perfectly. But after a couple of years of thinking that what she is saying is true, I'm trying desperately to hope that it will be otherwise. I don't want to sit in the stands and watch the Mets, as I've done for 47 years, hating my surroundings, hating what baseball has become. I want to enjoy myself. What I hope is that the place will acquire character somehow soon, that it's merits will be worth appreciating, and that tickets will still be available. If it doesn't work out that way, I'm going to be mightily unhappy. I'm hoping it's going to be like Diamond Vision. I hated it when it came. I wanted Jane Jarvis instead. But then, gradually, it became part of the beloved landscape of Shea. Maybe it will be like that. And maybe it won't.

  • Anonymous

    I agree absolutely. I *do* want to love Citi Field, I really do. But if, for example, its name keeps changing with the rise and fall of corporate sponsorships, I don't know if it will ever be able to be being anything more than a building.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    It's one's first impression that shapes one's memory so I supect Shea will be treated more kindly by those of us who were there from the beginning rather than those who saw it as something that always existed.
    We now acknowledge that it was indeed poorly designed but that was not how we saw it back in 1964 when Shea first opened. In an era of deteriating old ballparks Shea was a sparkling new marvel to behold. We didn't feel far away from the action – we were awed by its emmensity in size. The overhang didn't cut off more of the view as one sat further back – we no longer had any pillers! And being next to the Worlds Fair, the experience was like a sudden transportation into the world of tomorrow.
    Yet one can identify with the younger fans who feel less sentimental about Shea as us new breeders. We felt the same when it came to the Polo Grounds. Too young to appreciate it in it's glory days, our recollections are also of an old and depressing structure that just about had it. I didn't shed a tear after the final game was played in 1963, but I bet my father and uncles did.
    And now it's my turn to feel that same way.

  • Anonymous

    Kevin and Michelle have absolutely nailed my feelings on the parks. Citi may be a swell place (I've enjoyed every new/old-fashioned park I've visited), but I doubt I'll love it the way I did Shea. I guess kids who grow up going to CitiField will feel differently.
    Felt pangs of sadness (“Wow, that place is gone forever!”) watching Robin's Grand Slam Party on SNY last night.
    I don't take it as a good sign that I didn't get through for tickets to the Sox exhibitions this morning. The decision to seat 42,000 will long be regretted. I wonder if CF will ever be as raucous as 57,000 at Shea.

  • Anonymous

    remember, that 42,000 includes around 7,000 luxury suite seats. The real number is closer to 35,000. Once you have that number, then you take away all the 40 game packages/season ticket holders seats–a total I can't guess, but it's damn significant.
    In other words, as long as the team stays competetive, it'll be like trying to get into Fenway: impossible. A sacrifice for the greater good, I suppose.