I was thrilled to learn that the Mets will be honoring William A. Shea this season with a logo above the left field wall in the stadium that bears his name.
The tribute to Bill Shea will take its place alongside the retired numbers of Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, Tom Seaver, and Jackie Robinson. Next year, when the Mets christen Citi Field, the Shea name will accompany the numbers 14, 37, 41, and 42 in their place of honor.
When it was announced that the plans for a new ballpark in Flushing were finally going forward, I knew there was little chance that the new park would retain the Shea Stadium name. I hoped against hope that a corporate naming rights deal would not follow. It soon became apparent that such a hope was a pipe dream. I accepted the inevitability of the cost of doing business more readily than I expected I would.
At that point, I turned to hoping that the Mets would choose a corporate partner who would give the new stadium a dignified name. Beyond that, I wanted it to sound, I don't know, municipal. Perhaps Metropolitan Insurance would step up and give rise to the very fitting Metropolitan Stadium. It would likely be nicknamed The Met, creating even more confusion with the museum and the opera. But I was okay with that.
Of course, it didn't happen that way. The Mets and CitiCorp announced a landmark naming rights deal that produced the name Citi Field. And I let go a sigh of relief. It's not perfection, but it does have a certain municipal quality to it. City Field would have fit the bill even better, but that does nothing for the corporate identity. At least the name was not mashed together as CitiField, as initially reported. That's a little too modern for my taste.
At the time, I was also buoyed by the notion that the naming rights belonged to a venerable corporation. When stadium and arena names change as a result of corporate collapses, mergers, or acquisitions, the history of the franchise is impacted negatively. Two years ago, that didn't project to be an issue with Citi. Now I'm a little worried that the Mets will be playing in some other bank's park before too long.
But what of the legacy of Shea Stadium? Will Mets fans be able to adjust, or will we continue to call the new park "Shea" for years to come?
Shea is part of the cityscape. When you take the No. 7 train to the game, you disembark at the Willets Point/Shea Stadium station. It says so on the station signs, on the subway maps, and on the subway cars themselves. It will be interesting to see how the MTA handles the name change.
I will miss Shea. Going to games won't be the same without orange, blue, green, and red seats. Time is running out for the second upper-deck home run in stadium history, and then we'll never be able to gawk at Tommie Agee's marker again. We won't be able to point out where Straw's shot landed, or Piazza's.
I can't fault the Mets for wanting to progress. I can applaud them for bringing Mr. Shea's family to the home opener; having his son throw out the first pitch; and permanently recognizing the man who is credited with bringing National League baseball back to New York City.
These are the right things to do in appreciation of Mr. Shea's place in Mets history, and the right things to do for Mets fans who have a lifetime of baseball memories associated with Shea Stadium.
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