Jesse Jarnow

a trip to shea, 9/08

Went to Shea on Saturday for the lazy doubleheader against the Braves, arriving midway through the first game, and stealing a nice seat in the loge. I’m gonna miss that dump, both for nostalgic reasons and aesthetic ones. Built-in to being a Mets fan–and this, built-in to Shea–is the notion of hangdog tradition.

So, instead of a noble pinstripe continuity of God-like champs from Babe Ruth to Joe DiMaggio to Reggie Jackson, like the Yankees, the Mets’ lineage traces back to something even more basic: the desire for baseball. The official reason given for the team’s 1961 incorporation was the city’s need for another team. What were Dodgers and Giants fans supposed to do when their teams moved west? Root for the Yankees? It didn’t matter if the Mets won. It only mattered that they existed, that there was baseball to attend to. It’s why they could still draw many fans when they lost 120 games in 1962 and why Casey Stengel biographer Robert Creamer could declare the early Mets to be “countercultural” three years before Dylan went electric.

I think all of that is built into Shea, in its eternal Space Age funkiness, built as part of the World’s Fair across the Meadows. It even used to have weird, modernist plates adorning its sides. (I wonder when those disappeared.) At the very least, Shea’s humble funkiness was made even clearer when I headed up to the Bronx with RK & co. to see the Mets crush the Yanks, 11-2. There, I saw the Valley of Monuments (or whatevs) in centerfield, saw the entire bleachers engage in some kind of call-and-response with a Yankee outfielder, who replied by waving at them. I saw the stands erupt into a twinkling storm of popping camera flashes when Hideki Matsui batted. Give or take the “Jose, Jose, Jose” chant and the battered Home Run Apple, Shea has none of that.

But Shea is also Shea. Because the Mets (apparently) aren’t America’s team, terrorists pose no immediate threat to Shea Stadium. Thus, you can bring in backpacks, and don’t have to transfer your book/iPod/hoodie into a plastic bag (a clear bag, as I discovered, when I aided the Enemy by trying to recycle a white one) or check it at the bowling alley across the street. More importantly, at Shea, you can get tickets. Shea Stadium is big. It almost never sells out. There are ushers, sure, but–if you can find the empty seats–you can sit almost anywhere. There are still nights when you can get into the ballpark for $5.

And next year, at CitiField, who knows? There’ll be fewer seats, more luxury boxes, and higher prices. Will there be ushers forcefully guiding people to their assigned spots in every section? More, how will the new stadiums express the differences between going to a Mets game and the feeling of going to a Yankees game? Will there be any?