Writer's note: this is a companion piece to my farewell to Yankee Stadium.
It's the ugly stepchild in baseball stadia. It would look ridiculous in any city, but it's particularly appalling with the cathedral of baseball a short car ride away. By any measure, Shea Stadium is no architectural wonder.
But tell that to Mets fans and see if they care.
Hey, I know how they feel. I fell in love with the game of baseball at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, a stadium even more maligned than Shea. It didn't matter though, as the Vet held numerous memories for me and was a vital part of Phillies history.
Shea is that stadium for Mets fans. For all but two years of the franchise's existence, they have called Shea home. And it didn't matter that the stadium was shaped like a toilet and none-too-ironically placed in a neighborhood called Flushing Meadows.
Shea was home for Mets fans.
The casual baseball fan would walk into Shea and get lost amid its tight concourses, dank bathrooms, and uncomfortable, cupholder-less seats. The climb to the far reaches of the upper-deck (apparently called the Shark Tank by locals) is something Richard Branson would be proud of accomplishing. The neighborhood, a motley mix of scrap-iron auto shops, parking lots, and rail yards, is nothing to snap pictures of.
And while that neighbor to the north, Yankee Stadium, was a monument to pride, grace, and dignity (some call it stuffiness), Shea was campy, goofy, and fun. From Mr. Met to the giant scoreboard to the Big Apple in a top-hat, Shea was not sport, but sport entertainment. It, along with the Astrodome, perhaps started that phenomenon.
But the structure itself is just that; a structure. It's the memories that make it worth these 2,000 words. Mets fans have plenty to choose from.
The Miracle Mets of 69 clinched their title on this field. So did the 86 Mets, who were only able to after pulling off a miracle in game 6: of course, the Bill Buckner game. They clinched the NL pennant here in 2000 thanks to Mike Hampton. Robin Ventura hit a grand slam against the Braves in the 99 LCS, and still hasn't touched home plate. Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry probably deserve their own paragraphs.
Forget the last two years, Mets fan surely will eventually. They would much prefer to remember the first 43 at Shea.
And, unlike the still relevant and beautiful cathedral in the Bronx, Shea's time has come and gone. CitiField looks to be a rip off of every other new park in baseball, except they had time to throw a stupid rotunda onto the front of it then called it a day. Unique it will not be. But it will be home for Mets fans, just like Shea.
That's what stadia are all about. It's not about the best view of a skyline, the biggest scoreboard, or the most varied concession stands. It's about the memories of a fan base who are linked through pretty much nothing except geographic location and the love of a sports franchise. This is why stadia like Comerica Park, PNC Park, and Great American will never compare to places like Tiger Stadium, Forbes, Three Rivers, or Riverfront.
So, in those terms, Shea is a pretty special place. Regardless of it's shape. And yes, it will be missed, as it should be.