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Our Cats, Our Shea

For the longest time, I adored our cats Hozzie and Avery [1], yet had a hard time thinking of them as “our cats”. “Our cats” meant Bernie and Casey [2], 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 [3], which is out today on DVD [4] (makes a great accompaniment to the excellent [5] documentary The Last Play at Shea [6]). 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.

[7]

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 [8], 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 [9] 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.

[10]

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 [11] for reintroducing the world to Iron Duke and “We Want A Hit”.