FLUSHING, N.Y. – When it comes to baseball stadiums, Shea Stadium doesn’t usually top the most charming ballpark list.The so-called “cookie cutter” stadium opened in 1964 as the home of the hapless New York Mets and the New York Jets until 1983 when they left the city and started calling New Jersey home. The Mets moved into Shea Stadium in 1964 after playing their first two seasons at Manhattan’s The Polo Grounds. Starting in 2009, the Mets will move next door into the new Citi Field.
There have been dozens of great baseball moments at Shea Stadium, but if I had to choose one it would be Game Six of the 1986 World Series. The Mets trailed the Boston Red Sox 5-3 heading into the bottom of the tenth inning, and they were down to their final out. But, after three consecutive singles, a wild pitch and Mookie Wilson’s “trickling” ground ball that found its way past first baseman Bill Buckner, the Mets won the game 6-5.
Sure there were other famous non-baseball events that went into the history books. O.J. Simpson in 1973 became the NFL’s first running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. In 1965, The Beatles opened a tour of North America at Shea. In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the stadium on a rainy October day, but the rain stopped the minute the pontiff’s pope mobile entered the stadium.
There was so much that made Shea Stadium a stadium unlike all others. There was the stadium’s blue façade adorned with giant baseball players made up of neon lights. Then, there was “home run apple” behind the outfield wall that popped out of a top hat whenever a Mets player hit a home run. Of course, there were the fans. The rowdy and raucous fans made the Shea experience a truly unique one.
I’m glad I had the chance to experience Shea one last time in 2008.
Sure, the closing of Yankee Stadium garners most of the headlines. “The House That Ruth Built,” “The Cathedral of Baseball” has seen its last game. But for this Mets fan, the closing of Shea Stadium represents a more somber moment.
As the song “Meet the Mets” goes: “Hot dogs, green grass all out at Shea/Guaranteed to have a heck of a day.” “Hot dogs, green grass all out at Citi” doesn’t have the same ring to it.