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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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Our Cats, Our Shea

For the longest time, I adored our cats Hozzie and Avery, yet had a hard time thinking of them as “our cats”. “Our cats” meant Bernie and Casey, the cats Stephanie and I had before Hozzie and Avery. As cats will do (though nobody warns you when you plunge headfirst into petdom), Bernie and Casey eventually moved on to partake of that great bowl of Iams in the sky. Thus, Hozzie and Avery were the second generation for us. They were Cats 2.0. Their bells and whistles were impressive, and individually I fell in love with each of them from the word go (or, more accurately, from the words “hey, get off that thing!”)…but how could they be “our cats” when Bernie and Casey were that?

As I got used to the new kits in town, and as they got used to each other, I began to buy into these cats as “our cats”. I was all but there, in fact, when we got our first scanner. When the scanner went in, the old photo albums came out and Stephanie began adding familiar images to our computer.

That meant dozens of pictures of Bernie and Casey. On some weird level, it was like they were back in our lives again. How could they not be? They were right there on the screen. And if Bernie and Casey had (digitally) returned as “our cats,” what did that mean to Hozzie and Avery?

It meant they were still wonderful cats, and I loved them dearly, but it took me a little longer to totally and completely accept that they, and nobody else, were Our Cats.

I bring this up because last night I watched PBS’s Great Performances presentation of Billy Joel’s final Shea Stadium concert, which is out today on DVD (makes a great accompaniment to the excellent documentary The Last Play at Shea). As I watched, I was overcome by how quickly Shea Stadium came back to life. It was alive again in HD, and I was sure that as soon as Billy Joel told everybody not to take any shit from anybody that they’d strike the stage, clear the seats and get the place ready for when the Mets come home to face the Phillies and Cardinals.

When's the next homestand?

Shea Stadium, on TV, became my ballpark again. Not in the distant past, but right now. The Mets were playing at Shea again. I was sure of it. Shea was my ballpark.

Which left Citi Field as an oddly shaped parking structure beyond the outfield fence.

As the third season of the new place approaches, I thought I’d mostly gotten over all that. I held the torch aloft for much of the first two years there was no more Shea, but I’d settled into Citi. I’d come to think of it lately as where I go when it’s not winter. Maybe not in my subconscious (I’ve had several Shea dreams in winter; in one B.J. Upton is beating us a playoff game), and maybe not automatically (one trip on the 7 line in February had me anticipating the greeting of neon men), but mostly.

True, when SNY would report on the Mets’ efforts to sign the heretofore sidelined Chrises — Capuano and Young — I was extra excited because the only footage they had of them facing the Mets was from before 2009…when they pitched at Shea. But when the network aired stories about incumbent Mets, and Citi Field served as backdrop, it felt natural enough. When I began to look forward to the Home Opener and the days and nights that will follow in 2011, I instantly went to Citi Field in my expectations.

I was all but there until last night. Then, with Billy tickling his ivories and serenading that New York state of mind, I was back at Shea. All my post-2008 protestations bubbled to the surface.

C’mon, Mets, just do it.

Just bring back Shea as it was and we’ll call it even.

Citi Field? No problem. We can use it for outfield drills and snacks.

C’mon, Mets…

I think that’s what I missed about Shea last night, that it was so wrapped up in the identity of the Mets, and vice-versa. That’s what I saw when Billy’s camera crew filmed the wide shots. I see Shea and I see the Mets at their best and most vital. I see those multiple colors and think about its singular purpose: keeping us amazed every time we walked into that place. There were no readily accessible amenities of which to speak at Shea, and until somebody invented them for other parks, it never occurred to me we needed them.

There was baseball. There was the Mets. That was it. There may not have been all that many 1969s, 1986s or 1999s, but it always felt like one might break out for a couple of innings. That kept us focused. And that kept us going.

It doesn’t feel that way at Citi Field, most likely because there is no in-house template for indefatigable enthusiasm, but also because the place wasn’t built to nurture it. It was built to sell a better burger and a $35 t-shirt. It was built to offer access to amenities. Amenities are nice. Shake Shack, et al are swell (and swell is better than swill), but damn it, the place doesn’t feel like Shea.

And no, that’s not a good thing, because it doesn’t feel like the Mets. The Mets don’t truly feel like the Mets since Shea. Perhaps they will this year. Perhaps they will feel both comfortably reassuring and new and improved once the financial clouds clear, once the state of ownership’s composition is resolved and once the front office’s wits have a chance to work their rational magic. I believe that can happen even if I don’t necessarily believe it will happen immediately.

Until then, there’s Citi Field, which I’ve settled into and appreciate in my own way more than you’d think given my recurrent bursts of longing for what was. I know what was isn’t anymore. I get it and I’m as fine with that as I can be. Yet when what was (as filmed not three years ago) bursts onto my television in stunning orange and blue and green and red, I find it impossible to not be moved to wish it was still there.

There is this, however: There is the reality that once the novelty of scanned cat photos wore off and we amused ourselves with different computer wallpaper, the aura of Bernie and Casey receded as a going fixation. Still loved them, still revered them, will always cherish them, but they mostly curled up and napped in our past. Hozzie and Avery really did become Our Cats. They are totally Our Cats.

I know that for sure because Stephanie surprised me last week and changed our wallpaper to a classic pose of Bernie and Casey sharing a chair in our old apartment. I loved seeing it. I love seeing it now, as a matter of fact. But for the briefest of instances, I looked at Bernie and Casey and felt the slightest of disappointment I wasn’t looking Hozzie and Avery, because, instinctively, those are Our Cats now.

What an interesting parking facility back there.

Something like that will happen for Citi Field someday. Someday I’ll have the TV on and hear something about the “home of the Mets,” and look up and it will be a shot of Shea, and I’ll be thrown off just a bit because I was expecting, even hoping to see what I now consider the home of the Mets.

It will happen. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Cap tip to Mets By The Numbers for reintroducing the world to Iron Duke and “We Want A Hit”.

20 comments to Our Cats, Our Shea

  • Rob D.

    It feels like I’m going there to watch some team play, not my team.

  • Inside Pitcher

    That’s a great analogy, Greg.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Greg,

    You, Jason and all the others who follow FAIF know my feelings about Shea which, appropriately was named after an individual, one who helped bring about the birth of the Mets as opposed to Citi Field which, appropriately, was named after a corporation willing to pay sponsorship fee.

    Plus think of all this:

    – Convenient access with entrances, escalators and ramps accessible throughout the ballpark to get you to and from your car and seats fast and easily.

    – Ticket booths by all entrances so you can purchase your same day tickets and walk right in.

    – Perfect view from every seat.

    – 95% of all seats located within the foul poles.

    – Quick access to numerous restrooms located on all levels.

    – Airy and spacious with beautiful views of the landscape from beyond the outfield.

    You name it, Shea Stadium had it…. and Citi Field doesn’t.

    • Perfect view from every seat, Gracie?

      • Joe D.

        Perfect, as in not being blocked, George. :)

        High up and far away, agreed, but not blocked. Only complaint was being too far away to catch a tee-shirt while sitting in a mezzanine box.

        As I once said, even the escalators went down those first few seasons. Not even the escalator bank in the Rotunda does that at Citi Field.

    • March'62

      I remember the Jets leaving Shea because of those “numerous restrooms located on all levels”.

  • Jim

    Although now a parling lot, Shea Stadium will live on forever for every Mets fan who expereinced every Met emotion bad and good who went there. Citi Field is the new home of the Mets and us Met fans will go there and cheer and root and we will accept because we must and we may even grow to like and maybe love it. But Citi will NEVER be our home… Not really…It though will be the home of Met fans yet to come who will wax poetically someday into the future, When Citi Field becomes a parking lot (and they build a new stadium where Shea used to be.) Just as Shea Stadium was truly the home for the New Met fans yet to come. But Shea was never really home for those old fans although they loved it and adopted it (and even adopted a new team)…No their home was and forever be the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. Just as Shea will always be our baseball home,,,but we can never go there except in our memories and by watching and listening to old games. So we learn to love Citi and that is the difference, We did NOT learn to love Shea. Like the pretty girl she caught our eye and we could never turn away no matter how bad or good the Mets played.

  • Richie

    Losing breeds discontent. While I loved Shea, and the incredible acoustics that could make 10000 fans sound like 50000, I love Citi Field too. Bricks, concrete, steel girders-it all feels nostalgic to me. When The Mets win again, I think fans will finally feel at home.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    ^ Richie: When will that be? The Mets winning again.

    They coud play in a playground for all I care as long as they win.

    By the way the boys dropped 2 games today!

    I will be heading to PSL for some more pain tomorrow vs. Astros

  • Dave

    I’m just hoping that I live long enough to see the Mets decide someday that they need to replace Citi Field with a more modern, efficient ballpark that harkens back to a simpler time when baseball captured the imaginations of one generation after another without being played in theme parks…and their new home will be modeled after Shea.

  • Dave

    Oh yeah…and like you, I have grown very accustomed to our two newer cats, Elfie and Pandora, in place of the old ones, Hairball and Kerouac.

  • Andee

    What, no cat pictures?

    As someone who possesses a giant posterior and cannot afford the 24″ seats that would accommodate it, there is one thing I really appreciate about Citi (and really, all the newer ballparks) as opposed to Shea: I can get out of my uncomfortable-ass seat and take a walk, and not miss any of the action. I’d rather they had some Dodger Stadium-esque bench seating available, but I’ll take what I can get.

    And as a person whose personal plumbing doesn’t readily accommodate urinals, it is VERY nice not to have to queue up for the rest room and thereby miss an inning or two, for a change.

    But I do agree they built it as a palace for the rich, not for the rabid fan of limited means. On the other hand, back at Shea, didn’t they pretty much treat anyone who didn’t have a ticket for the field level like they were corroded or something?

  • Louis

    I honestly didn’t read this. I just want to know, do you guys think Carlos Beltran can play baseball anymore?

  • Dave

    Not that it would really be on topic, but a conversation entitled Our Cats, Our Shea has to give a tip of the hat to one of the great moments in Shea history, when the black cat crossed in front of the Cubs dugout in September 69? I’ll have Ron Santo’s “what else can go wrong?” facial expression etched in my mind forever.

  • Ronner18

    I’ll never forget walking under the overpass, and when I looked up I could see the train tracks, an unfamiliar site to me, as I was used to seeing a huge blue stadium. You can hear the jets, and feel the breeze, and if you close your eyes Shea is still there. I went to Citifield once, and spent most of the game gazing at a newly paved parking lot. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back

  • Joe D.

    Note that after two full seasons at Citi Field instead of embracing it we find so many instead longing for Shea as opposed to the new shopping mall that replaced it? Wonder what the results would be of a poll asking Met fans if they would have preferred a cleaned up Shea instead of what we’ve got now.

    The only Citi Field advantage is seeing the field when walking to the restroom or concession stand along with the added bonus of being able to see that part of the outfield that one can’t from his or her actual seat.

    And with the Wilpons urging fans to walk around (i.e., spend money) those heeding their call would have missed seeing Blackie cross the Cub dugout had it been at Citi Field.

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