|Shea is a shame|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
Editor's Note: This is the 27th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
NEW YORK -- My father attended the fifth game of the 1969 World Series, sitting in a box seat just behind Yogi Berra, about four rows behind the Mets dugout. That was the greatest Mets game to be at, and he even caught a foul ball. And then he got it signed by those in proximity -- Yogi, Bowie Kuhn, and the popular mayor of New York, John Lindsay.
He gave me the ball, which must have been the only one in existence signed by those three. It was a foolish act of generosity.
One summer day about four years later, my friends and I had everything we needed for a backyard contest ... except a baseball. I decided to be the hero, and dug the old treasure out of my closet.
The first day, it just got a little dirty and scuffed -- you could still see the signatures. The second day, we played in the street, and down the sewer drain it went.
Talk about regrets.
But still, my Dad was there, at the defining moment in post-Giants/Dodgers baseball history in New York. He was close to the immortals, to Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Tom Seaver, Ed Charles, a very young Nolan Ryan, Gary Gentry, Ron Swoboda. And though it's a second-hand memory, I'll treasure it forever. As I will my only visit to Shea as a kid, where I sat in those same box seats (tickets supplied by Barbizon, the company for whom my father worked). As far as I knew, Shea was the only stadium in the world. It was big, and new, and a boy couldn't want for more. I was definitely awed by the huge structure.
A few years earlier, in 1964, the New York Times had covered the opening of the new ballpark. Overheard by the Times reporter: "Daddy, oh daddy, it's beautiful." Replied his father, "I tell you, I tell you, my, oh my, isn't that something?"
Sometimes, you can catch that early vibe as a babe ripens into middle age. Not so with Shea. I'm sorry to say so, but sadly it's true -- the magic is gone.
2. Quality of hot dogs: Very good -- Kahn's. And the kosher dogs are a fan favorite, too. 4
3. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: My stomach churned a bit when I noticed the filthy disposable plastic gloves on the hands of one of the concession stand workers -- disposable, get it? Use them and throw them away. That's the point! But the items I ate were fine. 3.5
4. Signature concession item: Shea does all kinds of things to honor the patchwork quilt of ethnic groups that is the Mets fan base -- Italian Night, Irish Night, Greek Night, Hispanic Heritage Night, Jewish Heritage Night. But, perhaps in an effort not to offend, it doesn't seem to have come up with a special food item to call its own. Knishes? Soft pretzels? Who knows? But we'll give the park a few points for providing kosher offerings front and center. It's a good thing, no matter what your religion. 2
5. Beer: Next time you watch an episode of "All in the Family," check out the brand of beer Archie drinks. You'll notice that on the side of the can, it says, "Beer." That's a pretty accurate reflection of the variety available at Shea. You got Budweiser and Corona -- the latter to go with the "Mexican" fare of "BurritoVille." On the positive side, Corona is decent beer, and the one I got was ice cold. 2
6. Bathrooms: I've got three words for you: Hold it in. It isn't the worst restroom experience I've had, but -- I write this without a jest -- I've seen cleaner outhouses in Nepal. The only reason Shea gets a point is because it has family restrooms with changing stations. 1
7. Scoreboard: The huge, information-packed bonanza dominates right-center. This, the Mets get right: All other game scores, all the time; full lineups for each team, all the time; deep stats (for a scoreboard) for each player at bat (BA, HR, RBI, 2B, 3B, R); ball, strike, and out displayed in oversized numbers. And not a single missing light bulb, making for super-easy reading. The board is topped with a cool blue neon rendering of the New York skyline.
Smaller boards provide the pitch speed and type (and stock quotes between innings). The video board in left-center is a poor advertisement for Sharp, whose name is plastered on the bottom, as the motion shots look like they've been streamed over a 56K line. 4.5
8. Quality of public address system: Top-notch, capturing the Shea DJ's spins in their full glory. 5
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: There's "Fan Fest" for kids in an area outside the ballpark, open only before Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games. That's about it, for the little ones.
But for kids of all ages, they have the usual contests between innings. Sometimes, there's an obvious winner -- a little kid won a "Big Apple" clock the night I was there, for example. One between-innings video "contest" involved four cars -- orange, blue, green, and red, each representing a seating level. They race to Shea Stadium. Red wins! Hooray! That's me, and the handful of other folks in the upper deck! What do we win? That's the mystery. 1.5
10. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: No big souvenir shop like most other stadiums, but many of the available items were reasonably priced -- stickers for $1, bat-shaped pens for $7, a set of Mets buttons for $8, and so on. Even the bobbleheads were in the reasonable $20-and-under range. 3
11. Ticket price/availability: On a May weekday night, you could see the Phillies for a "value" price of $8 for upper-deck seats. On the August Friday night I went, the Phils were "Silver," and the price for the same seats was $14. I'm all for variable pricing, but really -- the Phils vs. a Triple-A-quality Mets team, Silver? More like tin. Rip. Off. 1
12. Exterior architecture: In the old days, Shea was dressed up '60s-festive, with light-colored panels brightening up the exterior. One Shea worker at the 1964 home opener said that the stadium "will look better once it gets older." Bad prediction. The freshly-painted deep blue that now dominates isn't much of an improvement.
There are some nice touches, though. Surrounding the ballpark, nicely tended small trees protected by small cast-iron fences with the "NY" logo on them are interspersed with well-cropped shrubs in big wooden planters. And on the huge expanses of blue metal are abstract, minimalist neon renderings of players in action -- the best ballpark art I've seen this year. 3.5
13. Interior Architecture: An Escher-esque endless circuit of interior and exterior ramps are the defining element. Dark blue hues, a high bowl that captures a gentle fog, and tens of thousands of empty seats combine to create a kind of eerie ambiance. Huge posters of past Mets greats during their moments of triumph, and a highlight mural just below the third deck should add to the atmosphere, but have the opposite effect. A Philly fan sitting nearby said, "This place is like a mausoleum," and the sad thing is that he was right. Frequent nods to the Mets' past only serve as reminders that their three periods of glory were all too brief. 1.5
14. Access: You got the fabled 7. I was staying in Queens, and had no trouble grabbing a Q47 bus from the ballpark, for $2. If you're driving and the U.S. Open is going on next door, fughedaboutit. 3
15. Ushers: When Shea opened in 1964, a young New York Times reporter named Robert Lipsyte crowed about "Metchicks" (officially called female directors) who helped fans figure out where to go. He seemed a bit fond of one of them, "a perky little girl in a blue bowler hat." The Metchicks are long gone, but the ushers at Shea are terrific. Unlike those who work cross-town, Mets ticket takers treat fans like human beings. Even when those fans are drunk and loud and obnoxious. Pure class. 5
16. Trading-up factor: Despite a healthy announced paid attendance of 33,208 (many came disguised as empty seats), moving down to a better view was a breeze -- I easily got a loge seat behind home plate at the end of the fifth inning. But the gates to the inner sanctum of the pricier, field-level boxes are closely guarded. 4
17. Knowledge of local fans: I was born a Mets fan, so it's an effort to try to be objective. Here goes: The Mets have the best, smartest fans in baseball. 5
18. Seventh-inning stretch: After a funereal rendition of "God Bless America" (I'm sorry, but that song should not be part of the stretch), things really got rocking. The whole place sang along to "Take Me Out," which was followed by Lou Monte's "Lazy Mary," which charted in 1958 and still carries a big charge. Mr. Met even made an appearance, dancing on top of the dugout. But where was he the rest of the game? 5
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: Shea is ensconced in a loopy, crazy maze of highways and local streets and parking lots. It's also in the middle of a real neighborhood, so this was hard to suss out. It seems the thing to do is take the 7 one stop to Flushing for the post-mortem, maybe checking out Bobby V's, which is, for some reason, still plugged on the Mets official Web site. 1.5
20. Wild card: Hey, look, over there -- it's Tommie Agee spearing Elrod Hendricks' shoulda-been-a-double during Game 3 of the 1969 World Series. And there's Gil Hodges showing the ump the shoe polish ball. There -- right there! -- it's Bud Harrelson taking on Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS. Once, from that mound, pitched Tom Terrific, and Dwight Gooden. Look -- that's where the ball went between Buckner's legs. Hey -- there's Jesse Orosco throwing his glove sky-high after the Mets won it all in 1986.
There's more than one park in the city that has a store of magic moments. 3
TOTAL SCORE FOR SHEA STADIUM: 63