I wasn’t going to write about this, because it’s bound to be very, very long and overly sentimental, the same old refrain you always get from me when I talk about baseball lately, not to mention the fact that when it comes to the internet and sports, if you wait longer than a day to write about something, you’re already obsolete. However, as much as I want to write about other things, it seems that this Shea post needs to be written, because it’s weighing on my mind and perhaps blocking my creativity. (Could I BE any more melodramatic about an as-yet unwritten blog post? I’m sure I could try.) But this needs to be said, it’s a big deal to me, and I have a feeling that I’ll be glad later that I did write this.
I’ve said it before, but while I’ve been a baseball fan for most of my life, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve tipped over into diehard territory. I never went to Shea Stadium as a kid, and I was too young to appreciate the magnitude of the 1986 World Series when it happened. (I was not too young, though, to absolutely adore Darryl Stawberry, a love that had its beginnings because it totally BLEW MY MIND that a grown up baseball player could walk around with a last name as cool as THAT.) Although I flirted with the Mets in college, a complete lack of friends who liked baseball combined with the embarrassing loss to the YANKEES of all teams in the 2000 World Series stifled our burgeoning reunion.
So I don’t know when it changed, or why it changed. All I know is that in August of 2006, I went to Shea Stadium for the first time and it was a very, very big deal. I wrote about that day, and it reads like a middle school weekend news report, like I didn’t take a breath while writing it, afraid that I’d forget a detail. (Back then I was a bit more about reporting details than the sentimental philosophizing of late.) I didn’t even own a Mets shirt back then, but I got chills when I saw Shea Stadium through the window of the 7 train, just like I have every time since then.
All last week, I was in a STATE about Saturday’s Mets game. Apparently I fretted about it aloud more than I realized, because when I got back to work on Monday morning, everyone asked me, “Well? Did you get to go to the game?” Leaving out the fact that the baseball leading up to the last weekend of the regular season was beyond exciting, up and down and hold-your-breath good and scream at the tv bad, a complete fucking rollercoaster, the forecast for the entirety of last weekend called for rain. All day Friday through Sunday. This game meant something big to me, one last trip out to Shea before they closed its doors forever, because even if the Mets did get to the playoffs, THIS was my last chance to go there myself. And the game was bound to be a big one, one that would affect the season, a must-win, and is there anything better than that? NO. But rain…. why rain, of all weekends, why does it have to rain THIS weekend? Because, you see, my family and I (all six of us, Mom and Dad and John and Lindsey and James) had tickets to a game back in June, and we excitedly took that interminable train ride out to Flushing, only to sit there for two hours eating hot dogs and drinking beer during what was initially a rain delay but eventually became a postponement. I already checked “Rain Out” off of my personal Sports Life To Do List, Universe, I don’t need to do that again!
So Friday night comes around, and I’m not surprised that no one really wants to go. Who would want to go through that again? There’s no arguing about the fact that it would suck colossally to sit on the train for two hours to either sit in the rain for nine innings OR see no baseball at all. (And don’t even MENTION the possibility that we might go out there, sit in the rain, and watch the Mets SUCK.) So I understood, I really did. I didn’t blame them. But I was heartbroken. Completely, utterly heartbroken. It was SO important to me to go to this damn game, to see Shea Stadium once more and get to say goodbye, because it’s affecting me way, way more than I expected that they are tearing it down. And as I sat there on Friday night, I realized that I would have no right to whine later about the fact that no one would go with me to the last weekend at Shea if I didn’t, you know, actually ask other people. And it’s a good thing I didn’t choose to wallow about it, because Pete was totally game to go, even if it did end up raining.
So go we did, armed with Gor-tex raincoats and giant umbrellas. And you know what? The game was delayed 45 minutes, but by the time we found our seats, the national anthem was playing and then it was time for the game. Our seats were in the upper deck, Row T, to be precise, and I’ve never sat up that high. (Shea Stadium, as it turns out, only goes up to Row V! Who knew?) But you could see everything, and while they didn’t admit it, I’m sure my family was a tiny bit miffed to learn that our seats were under cover after all. Johan Santana was the fucking HERO of the day, demanding the ball for what everyone knew was the biggest game of the season, pitching on only three days’ rest with what we later learned was torn cartilage in his knee. And he pitched a complete game shutout. Sure, it was a low-scoring game, but the stadium was ELECTRIC. Every strike, every ball, we cheered or booed. Every time Johan got to two strikes in the last two innings, we were on our feet chanting Jo-han Jo-han Jo-han. It misted a little, but Pete and I ate hot dogs and sausage and peppers and drank a pretty decent quantity of beer. We sat in the wrong section and liked our seats in the correct section better. We goggled at the steepness of the climb up to the top of the upper deck. We participated in the Wave. I sang mixed up lyrics to the two versions of Meet the Mets while we stood on line for food.
It was just so damn much fun.
And they won and we were there with them the whole way and I found out later that at the end of the game Johan kissed the game ball and threw it into the stands and I didn’t get choked up at all, not until we were walking down the ramps and I looked up at the Mr. Met signs saying “See you soon!” and oh…. but I won’t see you soon. But then my mom called and I shouted into the phone as we walked through the parking lot and tried to restrain myself from jumping around with the sheer elation of it all.
And yeah, the Mets were eliminated the next day in what was a completely, utterly heartbreaking loss. But that makes me even more happy that the last game I saw at Shea Stadium was a thrilling game, and actually, it was the last ever win at Shea.
Of course, I watched the last game, and it was awful. And then! They had the Shea Closing Ceremony AFTER the game. Why would they do that? Wouldn’t you want to have the ceremony BEFORE the potentially heartbreaking game? To get the fans and everyone all happy and celebrate-y? Weellll…. it turns out that the answer is no, and I can sort of see why. Because after they announced the many former players who were in the house (including Willie Mays! And don’t you just love Ron Darling? And the Doctor came back! And Keith is so obviously more ferklempt than he’s willing to admit. And of course, The Franchise himself, Tom Seaver, and Mike Piazza, who finally got the love he deserved), they had them all walk across home plate one last time. And then Tom Seaver threw The Last Ever Pitch At Shea Stadium to Mike Piazza, and the two of them walked off into the sunset in center field, through an opening in the center field fence, and together, closed the doors one last time. COMPLETE Tearjerker!
So now, we’re here and it’s almost a week later. I’m officially rooting for the Cubbies, and hoping that the Brewers SMASH the Phillies (although looking at the current standings, I clearly know how to pick ’em, but I guess as a Mets fan that should be no surprise, welcome to Flushing…). I can’t stop listening to talk radio, reading blogs, perusing the recent writing of the beat writers, or watching ESPN, as they all try to dissect what the Mets could have done differently or who should be booted off the team (ahem, the entire bullpen except for Joe Smith because I love him and his red cheeks, and maybe Brian Stokes). And it positively BREAKS MY DAMN HEART to watch video after video of the process of dismantling Shea Stadium. I can’t handle it. But I can’t look away, either. It’s like when you get a papercut and it stings but you can’t stop touching it, making sure it’s still there, and that yes, it still stings like hell.
Oh, Shea Stadium, you aren’t pretty. You have wacky neon silhouettes on your outside (which is actually way cooler than how you looked when you were first built lol). CitiField looms over your center field fence, all shiny and new and stately and shit. I know I’m not alone in saying that I don’t need state-of-the-art seats that are angled toward home plate, or fine dining, or open concourses. I’d have taken your rickety seats, nosebleed-inducing upper deck, and royal blue exterior any day. I’m there for BASEBALL, and I’d go no matter what you looked like. The atmosphere, the electricity, is there regardless. CitiField will be nice, I’m sure, and I can only hope that we, the fans, can carry your magic with us in our pockets when we visit for the first time. But I will always miss you, even though I only visited a handful of times. It just won’t be the same.