New York Mets: 10 Things We Miss About Shea Stadium

Frank Gray@https://twitter.com/#!/nyfaninsjerseyCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2012

New York Mets: 10 Things We Miss About Shea Stadium

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    The New York Mets have been in Major League Baseball for 50 years. When they were founded, the city of New York had just one team, the New York Yankees. The Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants both migrated west for nicer weather and a fresh fanbase in 1957.

    The New York area desperately missed National League baseball. Enter William A. Shea, a prominent lawyer and founder of the Continental League.This was a third professional baseball league that rivaled MLB. At word of this, MLB sought to expand and included teams from that league like the now Los Angeles Angels and the now Houston Astros.  He fought long and hard to bring National League baseball back to New York. He was finally successful in 1962.

    The first home was the old Polo Grounds from 1962 to 1964. It was a stadium located in upper Manhattan that housed the New York Giants baseball team until their departure five years earlier. This was just to pass the time until a more permanent home could be arranged.

    The Mets were finally able to build that new home and named it after the man that brought baseball back to New York. They called it William A. Shea Stadium.

The Original Home Run Apple

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    In May of 1980, the Mets decided on a new marketing campaign. The slogan was "the magic is back". As part of this campaign, they decided to build the Home Run Apple and make it pop out of a magician's top hat whenever the team would hit a home run.

    For the first few years, it had the words "Mets Magic" inscribed on it, but in the mid 80s, the team replaced it with the familiar "Home Run" in block letter that we all now know and love. When the Mets built Citi Field, a major question was what would they do with the Home Run Apple.

    They kept it and built a new one as well. The new one is about four times the size and was placed in the centerfield stands to celebrate Mets home runs.

    The original was placed inside the bullpen gate beyond the field until 2010 when the team placed it outside of the stadium at the entrance to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

The Stadium Murals

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    Shea Stadium lit up very well at night with the assistance of their exterior neon murals. There were seven in all. Each depicting a player doing a simple baseball-related motion.

    They featured a catcher behind the plate, a pitcher winging up to throw, a baserunner stealing and outfielder stretching to make a catch and so on.

    During the day, they were visible and appeared more like sketches. The artwork was astounding in the daylight hours.

    It was nearly mesmerizing at night. When they were lit up, they revealed various colors that made the murals seem to come alive. It was almost like a fireworks display every night.

    The colors would shift from one light source to another (similar to Christmas lighting) to reveal the appearance of motion.

    The outfielder would be running to the ball, as the ball would get closer to his glove, the pitcher would be winding up and then throw, etc, etc.

    Each had their own unique action. They each stood at an imposing 90 ft x 60 ft. Each was a sight to behold for a child's gaze of wonderment or an adult's stare in delight alike. 

Jets Games

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    Ask mostly any older Jets fan and they will tell you while they like the old Giants Stadium or the new Metlife Stadium as their home, sharing them with the New York Giants can be a frustrating ordeal.

    They once had a stadium all to themselves for football purposes. It was Shea Stadium. From 1964 to 1983, the Jets called Shea Stadium home. It was here where the Jets created most of their fondest memories.

    From Joe Namath to Mark Gastineau, the greatest Jets players played here. Shea Stadium hosted three playoff games (the Jets were 1-2). They had brawls and historic moments in Shea Stadium.

    O.J. Simpson, prior to his legal issues, was a terrific NFL running back and proved it at Shea. In 1973, he reached 2,000 yards rushing for the first time in NFL history and is still the first to have done that in 14 games or less.

    The aforementioned Gastineau celebrated a sack against the L.A. Rams in 1983 when Rams legend Jackie Slater took offense and went after him. The end result was an all-out, fist-to-cuffs between the two greats.

    The Jets eventually moved to Giants Stadium in 1984 enticed by the offer of 15,000 extra seats. Many fans still believe this to be a major mistake in franchise history. 

Recognizable Icon for the Arts

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    One aspect of Shea Stadium that may be missed is how it was used repeatedly by Hollywood. The lasting image of Shea in movies like Men in Black (pictured above), Two Weeks Notice and Old Dogs brings an iconic status to the former home of the Mets.

    Few sports venues before or after it have been filmed for as many movies and television shows. The movies previously mentioned showcased amusing clips from moments at the ballpark for the main characters.

    There are other movies that show more than just a clip of their characters from the park, they show most, if not all of the film from Shea Stadium.

    The classic movie Bang the Drum Slowly was an example of one such movie. Another one is the obvious Last Play at Shea. The iconic image of Shea was not just used in cinema, it was used in television as well.

    TV shows like Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens all filmed scenes at Shea or made numerous mentions of the Mets and their home park. King of Queens even filmed two entire episodes from there.

    The very site of Shea Stadium is so recognizable to the average sports fan, that even if they don't know the name of the stadium, they know they've seen it at least a dozen other places.

    That type of notoriety makes Shea Stadium a fixture in the arts as well as in the world of sports nostalgia.

Shea Stadium Skyline

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    When a person thinks of New York, they almost always think of some portion of the majestic skyline of the city. The New York Mets thought about this as well.

    When they designed Shea Stadium, they included a model representation of the city skyline with a sparkly Mets logo in the center of it and placed it atop the gigantic center field scoreboard.

    During the day, it was as majestic as the actual skyline itself. At night, it would light up and sparkle like a smaller version of the glorious lights of downtown.

    This feature was so popular, that when the Mets built Citi Field, it was another one of the items of decor the team decided to include in the process. It now hovers over the Shake Shack and is ready for viewing pleasure from all fans alike.

    In its glory, it was a symbol of the resilience of the city the team played for. During the September 11th attacks, the team placed the patriotic ribbon over the shadow of the twin towers.

    The Mets have endured heartache, loss, pain and triumph, just like the city they represent and the skyline that depicts it.

The Giant Scoreboard

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    One of the premiere features of the stadium was the giant scoreboard in straight-away center field. It measured 86 ft x 175 ft.

    Is it a coincidence that the scoreboard was 86 ft and the team won the World Series in 1986? Probably, but it's still an interesting fact.

    The scoreboard featured ads by several of their sponsors including their main sponsor Budweiser. It stated lineups of both teams and up to date statistics on each player at the latest at bat.

    It also displayed the previously mentioned skyline replica above it peering down on the action on the field below.

    The eye-popping colors combined with the overwhelming size of it, made the scoreboard an enormous creation and one that fans and players relied on for in game updates and information.

    To watch a replay on it, see your name among the list of fans celebrating a birthday at Shea or to see the pre-at-bat stats of the next batter including a picture were all spectacles among themselves. 

Shea Stadium, the Concert Venue

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    Shea Stadium was known for a lot more than baseball. They held other sporting events, like the previously mentioned Jets games. They hosted pro wrestling events, a Marvel Comic rendition of Spiderman getting married and a Pope John Paul II visit to NY.

    Of the non-sports related events, no other single type of event was more popular than concerts. It was so popular there, that VH1 named Shea the most iconic and hallowed concert venue of all time in their documentary 7 Ages of Rock. And why not?

    Over the years, Shea has hosted the The Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, The Who, The Clash, The Police, Joan Jett, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen among many others.

    The record for attendance was first reached on August 15, 1965, when The Beatles began their North American tour. That concert had 55,600 in attendance. That record stood until it was broken in 1973 by Led Zeppelin.

    The last event in Shea was a concert. Billy Joel's Last Play at Shea was taped on July 16, 2008. It featured Billy Joel with performers like Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Don Henley and Garth Brooks among many others.

    It was so wildly successful that it became a documentary and was embraced by millions of fans beyond New York City. There are many fans who will remember Shea for more than baseball. They will recall it as a place to rock!

The Shaking of the Stands

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    As it is with mostly all sports venues, when an excited crowd gets involved in the game, it will get loud. Shea was a little bit different, though.

    Rather than just get loud, which the crowd did extremely well, the stadium also got a little structurally unsteady. The more the fans would stomp their feet and jump around their seats collectively, the more the stands would shake.

    The experience was almost like being in an earthquake but in a good way. Fans somehow knew that Shea would hold steady long enough to absorb the greatest comebacks in team history, time and time again.

    The decibel levels in the stadium were extremely loud. When combined with the emphatic fans, the airplanes from nearby La Guardia Airport flying overhead made it a nightmare of an environment for an opposing player to stay focused in.

    These factors combined for an experience that is entirely unique to the fans of the New York Mets.

    No other fans in any sport can say they had planes soaring over their home park or that the fans made so much noise the stands nearly crumbled. It was a unifying experience.

    One that belongs to Mets fans alone.

Mets Colors

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    One of the biggest gripes from fans about Citi Field is it doesn't look like the Mets home. It has too much of an old-fashioned Brooklyn Dodgers feel.

    Between the Jackie Robinson homage (a player who never played for the Mets by the way) and the brown stone patterns throughout the structure, Citi Field is a new version of an old throwback.

    There is nothing wrong with that at face value. However, when compared to Shea Stadium in individuality and charm, Shea wins all over. The main reason is colors.

    The Mets built Shea around the two main colors of their franchise, blue and orange. Blue was to always remember the Brooklyn Dodgers and orange was to always remember the New York Baseball Giants.

    Shea Stadium paid a subtle respect and honor to these forerunner franchises by splashing the team colors that were derived by those teams all over their new stadium.

    The walls were blue. The fences were blue. The stands were blue and orange. It was a bold and intentional mixture of splashed color throughout the structure.

    It had charm and personality. It was unique unto itself. No other stadium boasted their team colors the way Shea Stadium did. The Mets put their colors out there for all to see as if to say "here we are, deal with it".

    The Mets dropped he ball on this one. When management asked the fans their initial thoughts on Citi Field—the largest response was "where is the color?"

Mets Memories

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    Every sports fan has memories to take away from their respective home stadiums. Mets fans are no different. They may even have a few more than most.

    Shea Stadium sported a team that provided years of mediocre to laughable play, but they also boasted winners as well. Memories of the good and the bad linger forever within each of our hearts.

    Shea Stadium is a sacred place for Mets fans. A temple that was so holy they had to keep a monument of the exact position of home plate in the parking lot like it was the birthplace of a saint.

    Perhaps, it can be deemed more sacred than that to some. After all, it was near home plate where the black cat crossed Ron Santo's path.

    Just a few feet from where the dribbler along the first base line went behind the bag. It was that spot that Ray Knight jumped on to score the final run of that game. 

    It was just feet away from that spot where Jesse Orosco leaped for joy the very next game. It is holy ground from a cathedral that no longer stands.

    That monument shows where the Mets and their fans once experienced glory. On that spot, names like Mike Piazza, Tom Seaver, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter among thousands of others once stood.

    It is the memory of these great experiences that keep the Mets fan warm on the coldest winter day. It is the hope of season glory and a promise of the possibility of a return to prominence.  

    While Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark, it can't hold a candle to Shea Stadium at this point. Give it another 40 years, two World Championships, one All-Star Game, countless All-Stars and potential Hall of Famers and we'll debate it again.

    Until then, there's no contest. 

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