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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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Once More Around the Parks

Friday night was about taking the first steps from a state of shock to a sense of tentative acceptance. Sunday (the workout opened to planholders; Stephanie and I went courtesy of a very thoughtful planholder) was for the journey from bottom to top, front to back, side to side, ins and outs. Maybe.

I say maybe because no matter how much we looked around in blessedly brilliant sunshine, it's going to require a long journey for Citi Field to go from house to home. House is a structure, home is a feeling. One of the most unsettling moments of the long Mets fan winter that is scheduled (weather permitting) to end Monday afternoon at 1:10 was a press conference I caught on the MLB Network announcing the Red Sox' re-signing of Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis said something about how this was home. He meant the Red Sox, but the event was taking place inside of Fenway Park. You know Fenway Park is home of the Red Sox. It's the same home of the Red Sox that's been for almost one hundred seasons. When John Updike passed away during the offseason, we all thought about “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” highlighted by the timeless description of the lyric little bandbox. Fenway was as recognizable in the mind's eye and on Yawkey Way in 2009 as it was in 1960 as it was, presumably, in 1912. It may lack those all-important amenities we hear so much about, but you know what Fenway Park is. Red Sox don't have to think about whether or not they're home.

Shea Stadium was that to me and to us. Shea Stadium was the home of the Mets. It's torn down, but that feeling doesn't demolish easily. At one point on our extended tour this afternoon, we wandered into Caesars Club (nice of him to have us) and out those arch windows was the pile of rubble, a little less high than Friday night, I swear. Shea Stadium is, as promised, transforming into $18 parking spots. Last year I sat in Shea Stadium and watched where I was today take shape. Today I sat in a plush chair in a commodious lounge and watched where I was all my yesterdays. That asphalt was center field, wasn't it? Wasn't Carlos Beltran just taking a home run away from Ryan Ludwick down there? Isn't that where I saw every centerfielder from Agee to Cameron before him ply his craft? Center field at Shea Stadium could be an adventure. Adventureland was now pavement.

I stopped looking at the past. I tried to look ahead. But baseball isn't just one long scouting report, one massive volume of Baseball Prospectus. I care deeply about how the Mets will do before every game and every year but I realize I care less and less about season previews and projected records and all that crystal ball gazing as each April arrives. What'll happen happens. I've guessed right sometimes. I've guessed wrong plenty. I guess I'll find out for sure about the 2009 Mets starting very soon, and Citi Field soon after that.

I'll stand by my delight from Friday about the concourses and the culinary options (Shea specialized in discomfort food, literally and figuratively) and all those upgrades that were injected into the new park. I miss the soul of Shea Stadium, but its infrastructure you can keep. Yet that soul…that'll take a while to rebuild over here. As Stephanie and I compared notes on how this felt like Busch, like the Jake, like Great American, like Miller Park — “And the nicest part of all, Val…I look just like you,” as it was put in that Twilight Zone in which everybody was subject to mandatory plastic surgery — I realized what I really wanted was the Citi Field modernity as I walked around and then I wanted Shea Stadium to open up before me as I sat down. Can't have both, apparently.

A friend once told me a story of a coat he wore for many winters. It was red, white and blue, so his buddies called it his Captain America jacket. He grew less and less amused over time and, come one Christmas, he asked his folks for a new winter coat. Whaddaya need that for? his practical dad demanded. The one you have still fits.

“I'm tired of the Captain America jacket,” my friend insisted. And for Christmas, he got something less comical to wear for warmth.

I can understand the impulse for a new coat — but I've been cloaked in the same forest green parka for a decade because it still fits. Shea Stadium still fit me no matter that others swore we'd outgrown it. I wish it were still here every bit as much as I hope its successor wears well. I see no point in indulging my instinct for Sheadenfreude. I can't root for this new place to not work. It's not going to do me or us any good. And whatever flaws emerge in these coming months aren't going to bring Shea Stadium back from lot to life.

Every time SNY has had a spare hour, it's replayed the Shea Goodbye ceremony from September 28. When it's on, I stop and watch. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that this is akin to viewing a funeral over and over and over again (luckily, they don't show the fatal car wreck of a game that preceded it). I can't help but look. It's the last time Shea Stadium stands. After Seaver and Piazza close the gates and Aaron Copland celebrates the common man, there's no more Shea. I like having the last of it in living color, but I hope they stop showing it. I don't want to be drawn into a funeral procession any longer. I can miss it without mourning it.

When I lost the first pet that ever died on me, as an adult, I was beside myself with grief. I asked a friend who'd had a cat learning curve similar to mine — not converting to felinism until his thirties — how he coped when he lost the kitty he loved.

“You mourn, but then one day you just stop,” he said. “It's a cat.”

I got it. And eventually I stopped mourning. Never stopped missing, but I moved on. Today I began to move on from mourning Shea. I miss it, but I'll keep moving forward. I have to.

Mourning has broken.


In a recent episode of The Simpsons, Lisa frets over what kind of candy to buy to impress a new classmate. “How about Charleston Chew?” Bart asks.

“What is this,” Lisa huffs. “Brooklyn in the Fifties?”

No matter the cynical conception that METS stands for nothing more than My Ebbets Team Substitute to a certain majority owner, Citi Field feels nothing like I imagine the joint on McKeever Place did. You can have your archways and your Rotunda (I can't look at that 42 sculpture and not think “Ron Hodges”), but that's where it ends. I don't mean that to let Citi Field off the hook for its overly nostalgic tics. I mean this ain't some lyric little bandbox. You wouldn't build Ebbets Field in this day and age any more than you'd build Shea Stadium. It can pay all the homages it wants and it's not going to be from 1913 or serve as a chummy little neighborhood asylum. It's too now, it's too affluent (or would be in better times). That's OK. There's a reason a team once left Ebbets Field that has nothing to do with Robert Moses. It was no longer considered an optimal business model.

This is not Brooklyn in the Fifties. Does it carry on the intangibles of Ebbets, though? Is it “intimate” as billed? Well, it's smaller than Shea, as you well know. There are spots from which you're sitting far from the field and you don't feel on top of the action as promised. There are spots (probably ones I won't be sitting in again when it's not an open house) where you feel cut off from baseball civilization. And then there are spots that give you the impression they weren't kidding about intimacy.

The Pepsi Porch feels that way; we were in right, but I was tempted to shake hands with whoever was sitting on a line with us in left. Midway up the Promenade on the third base side feels that way, too. It's a new, improved Upper Deck over there, at least until you climb to the top (when it's just a very high and windy perch). The tilted seats make their most impact up there, I thought. I am so used to staring at the left fielder from that vantage point that it will actually take practice to not turn my head toward Daniel Murphy and just stare straight at the batter…but what's attending a glorified batting practice for anyway?

It was at those two random sit-downs when I felt like I might enjoy watching a Mets game at Citi Field, that it won't feel foreign. The Prom was ballpark seating like I was used to, but properly aligned. The Porch doesn't feel as far away as other outfield seats I've tried in other places. That could be fun. Even though a revisit to the Field Box level (as opposed to Field Level boxes of yore) was pleasant, that's the part where I felt we were in Anypark, U.S.A. And a brief sampling of the Caesars level was too exclusive for my tastes. A great, great vista, with a guest appearance by Flushing Bay in the distance, but isolated in its splendiferousness. If I want privacy, I can sit here at my computer. Ballparks are public spaces. The Mets' public (even if I've had my run-ins with disreputable representatives thereof) needs to be bonded together.

I gotta hand it to the Mets for having this housewarming, as my friend Sharon called it. Sure it was an excuse to sell stuff (nobody forced me into that team store or toward the Catch of the Day counter, so I'll forego restating my astonishment at the price tags) and a fourth chance to flick the switches on and off so they operate properly a week from Monday, but it was simply lovely to be among Mets fans again. I don't think it's fair to identify any subset as “the real fans,” but the partial people strike me as particularly committed. They'd have 81 tickets every year if time and money weren't issues. They have made an annual habit of every Saturday or every Sunday at a Mets game (though I understand that the Mets rejiggered weekends to include spare Wednesday nights this year). These people wandering and noshing and taking in a slice of BP weren't from some elite superstrata of the population. They were Mets fans who would have gladly gone to watch batting practice at the old ballpark and seemed just as pleased to have it presented to them at the new venue. Maybe some of them were the people I saw lingering atop the Upper Deck ramp the last Sunday of last September, not wanting to give up what was so familiar and reassuring. I hope those ramp people, wherever they were today, are happy in the new digs. I hope they find it to be home.

I hope I do, too. I had a great big head start this morning and afternoon being there with Stephanie. Finally finding, after ten minutes of searching, the brick that commemorates our first date reminded me how happy I was to begin to share my passion with my then newly beloved. Our visit later to the Caesars seats brought me back to that August day in 1993 against the Rockies when we had a similar view from Loge: right behind the plate, the Mets in the foreground, us together. That was then. That was now, too.

Shea La Vie — and Citi Field while we're at it.

The end of Shea Stadium and the fanwalk that brought us there is retraced in Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook.

8 comments to Once More Around the Parks

  • Anonymous

    I was at today's workout as well. This was my first trip to Citi Field. My first order of business was to stake out my seats, which are in the top row of the Promenade Reserved. I have to admit, the view is magnificent. It will be windy, but, hey, so was Shea, even on its best days.
    True, Shea was home, and I'll always remember it as such. And all I have to do is turn around from my seats and see where it was. But Citi Field, I'm in love with it already. It's going to be a great place to watch a game.

  • Anonymous

    The extra trip to the park did you well, Greg — I enjoyed this post more than the one you left after Friday. In particular, I appreciated your focus on the feel of a stadium; your wonderful line about the “soul of Shea” even brought to mind that Crash Davis speech about how he doesn't believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart, that he believes in the soul… And in the face of all this, you still came away with optimism about the new ballpark someday finding a place in our hearts. To be sure, it'll take time — we would be awfully shallow if we felt it immediately. I'll be there Opening Night, because we gotta start somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    We went Saturday and I was surprised at how much I like CitiField already. I'll always love Shea but wow, the new place is spectacular! We (insanely) splurged to buy a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-coworker's tickets in the Delta section, and I had that “Oh my God” moment when I walked out into the seating area. It is just gorgeous.
    Gale force winds prevented us from doing an extended walking tour, but all the amenities and hangout areas and food stands and the beer promenade (boy, can't wait till my first game without the Missus!) were all really neat. I especially liked the bullpen area with the old apple. I look forward to extended exploration, but there's the rub: once a regulation game (as opposed to an exhibition blowout) starts, I don't particularly want to wander around aimlessly. Guess I'll be going in early, cutting into my parking lot tailgating.

  • Anonymous

    This post got me thinking about my first real game at Citi, Sunday 4/19 (Magnetic Schedule is a must-have, though I missed out on it the past 2 seasons… I suppose you can blame me then for the seasons' outcomes). It finally struck me to take out my pocket schedule to figure out who'd be pitching (Big Pelf).
    That's a good sign for me that the season has begun. HAPPY OPENING DAY!

  • Anonymous

    I also attended on Sunday. I also want to be able to be positive and accept Citi Field as the new 'home' of the Mets. But any home has pictures of the family. Citi has none. Oh sure, I liked the banners on the exterior of the ball park paying homage to Mets past and present. Very nice. But I was stunned not to find a picture of a New York Mets player, coach or manager anywhere inside the stadium = er balpark! Even with the Ceasers club – not one picture? The Ebbetts club had Dodgers stuff. Why doesn't Wilpon just buy the dodgers and be doen with it for heaven's sake?
    On the field there is much advertising which is fine – but where is there a “Mets” sign? It's a beautiful field and I appreciate the classic Pepsi-Cola sign. But no new Mets sign. In the 80's, I wasn't too pleased when the old Mets sign on the Shea scoreboard with the Mets skyline one, but grew to like it. What really bothered me is that in Citi Field, it has been relegated to a hidden away plaza in RF and sits atop the new Shake Shack! Couldn't the Mets skyline logo be given a more prominent place, like atop the preomendade?
    And no offense to Jackie Robinson or his family and I do respect his place in baseball and American history and all that but….if you are going to build Jackie a rotunda, couldn't you build the Mets a museum? This is suppose to be the Mets home.

  • Anonymous

    I just assumed that they'd eventually get around to putting up banners or wall prints or whatever with Mets on them. One would hope there are eventually more pictures of Mets than Dodgers.
    Wow, I never noticed the lack of a Mets sign! You're right, they do need one.

  • Anonymous

    Yup. As much as I love Citi in my two trips, it still has the foreign feel to it. Because whenever I think of a big Mets moment (and whenever SNY shows a highlight) it's Shea in the background. Citi's great, but it'll need to earn my heart. But I definitely feel a lot of areas that seem to be very intimate and should generate some fun times.

  • Anonymous

    It's funnny, I go to Opening Day every year (except this year, barring a miracle) and I've taken the Magnetic Schedule for granted all these years. But it's one of the most critical items the fan has. You look at it all year! Especially if you go with family – one for the fridge, one for the office, on in the den…