The first time I was there my father attempted to get me to don the home pinstripe jersey of the Mets and do a photo shoot. The photo shoot would produce a baseball card of me that to this day is floundering around somewhere in my room.
I have some memories of that day, mostly vague, but nevertheless memories. I remember walking the long hallways and arriving at the place where my picture would be taken. There I was. I could not have been more than 5 years old. I had a hat and a pair of glasses that were much too large for my head. In short, I looked ridiculous.
Shea Stadium was the first place I saw a baseball game, and it is fitting that a ridiculous little boy would grow to have so many memories in a ridiculous looking baseball stadium.
You see, I never saw the Miracle Mets of 1969, or the Amazins of 1986. I was born in March of 1987, right before the fall. The real memories of that building did not begin to really come to life until the 1999 season. It was that year my family went in on season tickets with two other families. Shea Stadium became my second home for the better part of three summers, and it was glorious.
I remember taking the limo into the ballpark on opening day 1999 and wondering aloud at what classes I was blowing off to be there that day. Opening Day at Shea 1999 is just one of many memories that I have of that place. And certainly 1999 would produce some great times at the old ballpark.
One of my first memories of having season tickets was being able to go into the Diamond Club, the "premiere" restaurant at Shea Stadium. In the hallway outside of the Diamond Club was the Mets "Hall of Fame." It's not so much a hall as it is a trophy case with historical relics to Met fans. In it were busts of Met heroes of the past and both World Series Championship trophies. To the 12 year old who was taking it all in for the first time, that trophy case was something special to me. But that was not the only magic I would see that year.
It would come down to the final day of the season and some that year. And those Mets knew how to close it out. After going through quite a few years at that point seeing Yankee fan friends lap up the love of cheering for your team in October, words can hardly describe what I felt when I heard Bob Murphy call that final out in Cincinnati that Edgardo Alfonzo had caught. The radio was tuned to WFAN to drown out the nonsense being spewed by former Cincinnati Red Joe Morgan and his counterpart on ESPN Jon Miller. I had to hear Murphy call that game, it only seemed appropriate.
What's more about that night is I knew I would get to see post season baseball in New York. As many playoff games as my Yankee fans friends had watched on TV most of them could not say they got to see their favorite team actually play in the playoffs at their stadium.
So there we were, my family and I, at Game 4 of the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Things I remember vividly from that series are starting off with staying up way late to hear Gary Cohen call that grand slam home run off the bat of my favorite player, Edgardo Alfonzo. But that weekend afternoon in October at Shea would prove to be just one of a couple special moments I had that post season.
In the bottom of the tenth with the score tied, backup catcher Todd Pratt strolled to the plate. He hit a long fly ball to deep center field, the crowd rose to its feat and let out a roar. The only problem with Pratt hitting the ball to center field was that Arizona's center fielder, Steve Finley, was one of the best in the game and had a knack for going into deep center field and stealing home runs away.
Finley was on the run, and the crowd was nervous, he got to the 410 sign at the wall and jumped with his glove held high. The only other time I have heard Shea that quiet is during moments of silence. When Finley came down the crowd held its collective breath. But then Finley's head dropped, and with that came a deafening roar throughout Shea. The ball had sailed over the fence in center, and the Mets had eliminated the Diamondbacks from the post season. Pratt ran wildly around the bases, and the Mets partied at home. That feeling of the stadium shaking from underneath me was not the last time I would feel it that October.
The Mets lost the first three games of the NLCS to the bitter rival Atlanta Braves. They would win game four against that dolt John Rocker in comeback fashion to extend the series to a game five. We arrived at the park that day for a 4PM start, and little did we know we were settling in to witness history.
After being tied for 11 innings, the Braves took a one run lead in the top of the 15th. My Dad turned to me and told me that at two outs in the bottom of the inning we were leaving because he did not want to see the Braves celebrate on our field. Luckily it never got to two outs in the bottom of the inning. After an epic at bat by Shawon Dunston resulted in a single, the Mets were off and running. They would load the bases for none other then Todd Pratt who entered the game late for a bruised and battered Mike Piazza. Pratt would draw a walk to tie the game, which set the stage for Met third baseman Robin Ventura.
By this point the rain had been coming down hard for a while. The air was brisk, but the stadium was shaking. Since a few people had left due to it being Sunday night, the longest game in post season history, and a school night/night before the work week began, my brother and I ran a few rows down in the aisle below our section in the orange seats to watch Ventura's at bat. With a man on third and one out, I knew a fly ball would win the game.
When Ventura put that 2-1 pitch into the air I began celebrating, as did the rest of the stadium. I turned and ran right back up the old concrete steps and into my fathers arms. I had no clue until after we left the stadium that the ball went over the right center field wall. It did not matter to me, all that mattered was that the Mets won.
Certainly their season ended in disappointment, but the following season would provide some more wonderful memories as well as post season dramatics. In game three of the NLDS against the Giants the Mets found themselves caught up in another long playoff game. This time, in the 13th inning, Met outfielder Benny Agbayani would win the game with a home run over Barry Bonds' head in left field. Shea Stadium was electric once again.
The highlight of that season for me was attending all three home games against the St. Louis Cardinals during the NLCS. The Mets got crushed in game three, but went on to win game four to put the Red Birds on the brink of elimination.
I'll never forget that day the Mets clinched the pennant. I was in eighth grade, and the idea of possibly being there the night the Mets won the National League Championship enamored me all day. We wound up going with a few friends of ours from another family, and had the time of our lives. I often hearken back to that day and recall how the celebration felt like New Years Eve. Everybody knew it was coming. The Mets jumped out early, and Mike Hampton cruised.
I went to the bathroom with my Dad during the late innings and when we went to dry our hands we found all the paper towels were gone. When we got back to our seats and looked up at the paper being rolled from the red seats in the upper deck, we knew where they had gone.
That bottom of the ninth, Shea was rocking as I had never heard it before. With two outs Hampton delivered a pitch that the Cardinal hitter launched into center field. Timo Perez, the Met center fielder, was so excited he leapt three times before making the catch for the final out. I did not know what to do, for the first time in my life I rooted for a winner.
I held onto my Dad for support jumping and yelling my head off. To this day it is still one of the best moments of my life. Euphoria was the emotion felt by all inside of William A. Shea Municipal Stadium that night. For once, I celebrated like my Yankee fan friends did.
But just like the Mets, and just like Shea, my team came up short. I was there game four of the 2000 World Series when Yankee short stop Derek Jeter led off the game with a home run. But, I was there. And I will never forget it.
After the 2001 season we gave up our share of the season tickets. Many seasons of turmoil and ineptitude would follow. And ever game I went to since the 2001 season I felt like the Mets lost. Until I went back against the Texas Rangers this past summer and saw the Mets begin to right the ship. I went to a few more games this past summer to savor the old ballpark. I finished with a winning record there.
I've been to Shea more times than I can count. And certainly there are memories there that loom larger and more pleasant than others. But when we had those season tickets, as disappointing as those years would end, there always seemed to be a sense of magic in the place. There was always a sense that something big was about to happen. Whether it was watching Joe McEwing torch Randy Johnson, or those miracle endings by home runs forever etched in my mind. Or maybe it was the sense that everytime Piazza came to the plate you felt like you were about to witness something special. Like we did the night we saw him break a 2-2 tie against Roger Clemens and the Yankees to give the Mets a 5-2 victory on that summer Friday night in 1999.
But there are also some rougher times I will always remember. Like the day the Mets were being blown out by the Houston Astros 13-0 and we stayed to take it all in and laugh. And that world series game where Derek Jeter led off with a home run and I slumped into my chair thinking the world was over, it was only the first inning.
Then there were the times we would see celebrities, most notably Matthew Broderick who had seats close to ours. Like the time I told him I liked his role in "Godzilla" because I was too young to ring off quotes from "Ferris Bueler's Day Off." Those are the times I will remember, those are the things I cherish.
I went for the last time in August with my brother and his girlfriend. We rode the elevator up to the Diamond Club and ran into WFAN's Eddie Coleman along the way. As we stepped off of the elevator we walked right over to that Mets Hall of Fame. That same hall of fame that when I first saw it at 12 years old, was every bit as magical that day as it was nine years prior.
The lasting memory of that place that I will take with me forever though goes beyond the boundaries of watching a baseball game. It was the moment that being 21 years old I could relax into one of those old plastic chairs and share a beer with my father. Aside from having a catch with my father at the Field of Dreams in Iowa, I don't know if there is a more fulfilling father-son thing to do.
No other place in the world has delivered such wonderful memories as that old, unattractive ballpark on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, New York. To me, it is a castle. Like one of those old forgotten castles in Europe, one that may mean very little to many people, but to some it has a history, it has a place in their heart. Go ahead and laugh it up, Shea Stadium is a castle to me, and I will miss it dearly. When I am home next month I am almost certain I will go out of my way on the way to an appointment in Bronxville to swing by the old stadium one last time. To have one last memory to savor of the place that has defined much of my childhood.
Thank You Shea Stadium for the memories. The good, the bad, and the euphoric. I only hope Citi Field can be a place for young kids like Shea was for me and so many others.