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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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The Original Rotunda

Welcome to Flashback Friday: Tales From The Log, a final-season tribute to Shea Stadium as viewed primarily through the prism of what I have seen there for myself, namely 358 regular-season and 13 postseason games to date. The Log records the numbers. The Tales tell the stories.

7/25/07 W Pittsburgh 14-12 Gl@v!ne 15 189-153 W 6-3

No doubt that by Opening Day the Mets and the MTA will team to install a sturdy pole and a good strong rope to serve as a replacement for the subway platform extension they have torn down to make way for progress. So it’s not like something will be replaced by absolutely nothing. But something’s definitely missing with the removal of that extension, its staircases, even what we can rightly term the original rotunda in Flushing, Jackie Robinson’s emerging handiwork notwithstanding.

It wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t airy. It wasn’t efficient. But it was round and it was where everybody sooner or later gathered, either for a fleeting moment en route to baseball or for too long trying to cram your way past your fellow travelers in order to beat them home. The most time you ever spent purposefully in its unfriendly confines was to buy a MetroCard, hopefully before the game (good luck after). As token clerk postings go, the Shea Stadium cage would certainly have to be rated one of the more unique: placed literally in the middle of the action, lonely for several hours and then mad rushed at the end of the shift.

Yet there was a sense of place in that structure, genuine Shea Stadium iconography — older than the Home Run Apple and a touch more reliable. In reality, it didn’t work very well. In memory, all it has to be is there.

When you think of the platform extension, you’re likely to think of upstairs before you think of downstairs. Even if you never once took a 7 train to Shea Stadium, you knew about upstairs from watching TV, from those inevitable “the crowds are still coming in” shots. Maybe all that foot traffic was why the orange seats seemed so unoccupied as tonight’s starter took his warmups.

The platform was also your ticket to free baseball, or at least a healthy glimpse for the price of a subway fare. My happiest moment as a press-junketing attendee of the U.S. Open was listening to the early innings of a Mets-Padres game during the one match I consented to sit through and then bolting back toward the subway to do what always seemed so exotic: watching the Mets from behind the scoreboard. “Just one pitch,” I told Stephanie. “I want to see one pitch from up here.” On that pitch, Lance Johnson doubled. Had an unobstructed view of him pulling into second, courtesy of that platform. With that, I turned away toward the train, partially absolved for what I considered the sin of going to the tennis stadium while the Mets were in action.

If I was running late for a game, I’d usually ditch the platform and come out on the other side of Roosevelt Avenue. I don’t know if it was any faster, but it seemed slightly more direct. The rest of the time, I grew to enjoy the ritual of the platform extension. Though one friend sniffed that it was best left for “tourists,” I’d say welcome aboard to anybody touring Queens. The platform presented one of the most picturesque vistas in New York. I wonder how many photographs through the years have been explained away with “…and this is Shea Stadium where we got off the train — you can kind of see it behind that big guy in the Mets cap carrying the bag.”

Sometimes I’d stop and window shop at the kiosk that used to be a newsstand and peruse the pins and the pennants. I don’t think I bought more than a couple of items there all these years, but I liked the idea that there was commerce up there. The only other thing you could get your hands on was a Jews For Jesus pamphlet. I preferred the pins.

Once down the staircase and out the turnstile (which, despite its physical removal in ’07, I never once didn’t brace to push upon completion of my descent), it was out of the dark and into the light of approaching Shea, melting into the army of those similarly avoiding the aggressive entreaties of MasterCard, Newsday and Kozy Shack. That was generally that until the ride home, when the less you saw of the rotunda and the staircase and the platform extension, the better.

Except for a little arrangement I had worked out with my friend Mike Steffanos, a.k.a. Mike of Mike’s Mets. When he and I decided to make our maiden mutual voyage to Shea Stadium in 2006, Mike had been out of practice at gamegoing. He lives in distant Connecticut and, I believe, has a life, thus he wasn’t instantly familiar with the nooks and crannies I favored as specific meeting spots outside Shea. How about, he asked, if we meet by the subway entrance? He knew for sure where that was.

I thought about it for a moment. You can do that? You can meet somebody there? I guessed you could, if you got there early enough not to be trampled.

It worked! I don’t know why I would have thought it wouldn’t have. Just seemed too simple, I guess. Yet at six o’clock for a 7:10 start, there aren’t that many people around. You can surely pick out your friends.

Late last July, our second game together, I arrived a little before him and used the opportunity to traipse across the truncated right field parking lot and case as much of the new joint as I could. Citi Field was finally taking shape. It was the first time I saw two ballparks where I had always seen only one plus a construction site, where I will always see two, no matter how many there actually are. Curiosity satisfied for the time being, I hustled back to the subway entrance — the rotunda — and found Mike loping down the last of his steps. A local had masqueraded as an express, he apologized, otherwise he would have been here sooner.

No problem, I said. After seeing the Future Home of the New York Mets, I was quite comforted to find a familiar face in this very familiar space. Of all the things I thought of in December after learning of the demise of the platform extension, the one that stuck with me the most was Mike and I have to find a new place to meet.

5 comments to The Original Rotunda

  • Anonymous

    Outside the will-call is a good place to meet, as I recall… (wink)

  • Anonymous

    They're in the process of building some temporary something or other to serve as the the subway exit for 2008. Should be interesting to see what it looks like.

  • Anonymous

    I've expressed my sadness in the rotunda removal when the was first mentioned. I had that thing down to a science. Leaving the Subway through the Roosevelt Avenue exit was foolish, because there always seemed to be a clueless mob at the bottom of the steps, standing still and trying to decide the best way to enter Shea from there. Unlike the wide open rotunda, you only had a 5 foot width to maneuver around them. After the game? FUCK the Roosevelt entrance. Once you eventually made it to the staircase it was a snails' crawl up the steps, like you were on line for a roller coaster. Maybe others will disagree, and they may be right. My experience with the Roosevelt entrance/exit is limited because I lived and died by the rotunda. I knew how to approach it and zip through it like so many people did not. Of the 4 staircases down to choose from, I never once used the one on the North side, as I deemed it unlucky. That's right, I was superstitious about the stairways I used to approach Shea, what of it?
    I met my girlfriend, friends, and father there before a game probably a hundred times. My favorite story was the “Wright beats Rivera” game in 2006: my girlfriend and I were to meet at the Rotunda, both of us coming straight from work. She was late, getting there in the top of the first while the Yankees were piling on early runs. I had WFAN in my ears to bring me the bad news, so I was in a lousy mood when she arrived. Unbeknownst to me, the MTA was particularly incompetent in bringing her there that evening, so she was also in a bad mood. I'm sure I gave her some kind of annoyed look and half-hearted hello when I saw her due to the torturous play-by-play in my ear. Unfortunately, she took it as “he's pissed at me for being 5 minutes late? Fuck him!” and turned around to go home. I stopped her, we had a ridiculous argument with the Rotunda as witness, eventually made up, and headed inside.
    After Beltran put us back in the game in the first, after Nady put us back in the game in the 5th, and after Big Dave won it in the 9th, we marched toward the rotunda again, this time in a jollier, more festive mood. In the middle of the mob scene trying to gain entrance, I somehow ran into my friend Shai, whom I hadn't seen in a year. We hugged eachother in celebration, marveling at what we just witnessed. He had to leave quickly after to catch the LIRR, but we agreed that the happenstance meeting was the perfect end to the evening.
    The worst of times and the best of times, right at the Rotunda, all in one evening. I'll miss that fuckin thing.

  • Anonymous

    Coogan's bluff gave a slice of the Giants to fans in the era before the Polo Grounds fire of 1911 and it's the subsequent expansions..The platform was our Coogan's bluff.
    The best outdoor souvenir stand at Shea stood upon it. It was a great meeting place for friends. And you always know how big the crowd would be based on how many late arrivals streamed across it..

  • Anonymous

    The few times i meet people I've always just done so by cellphone(Or for the Grand Single game, under the big D for gate d to buy my ticket) Although I'll have to be meeting people more this year perhaps(especially as I have an extra seat in my saturday pack plan that I need to find a buyer for..) There is also the ability to leave the ticket at will-call and meet at the seats. via “Q:I am meeting someone before a game. Where is a good place to meet?
    a:One good location is outside the Mets Offices, located between Gates C and D.”
    My experience last year was that (if you don't already live by the train) it's still easier to drive if you know all the tricks. But my experience with the subway was that the best way to do it(for the LIRR too) is to walk into and through the roosevelt avenue parking lot to get to the platform.