February 14, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; A view of a baseball sitting in a puddle in the dirt during New York Mets spring training at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Remembering Shea, Four Years After it Came Down

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The last piece of Shea Stadium to come down (as the video below shows) was the final section of its ramps.  To those who aren’t Mets fans, the ramps were just concrete.  For those of us who fell in love with the Mets while watching them play at Shea, the ramps were much more.  They were the way to our seats, with each step taken bringing us closer to the action on the field.  After the game, it was the ramps we would head down on our way out of the ballpark (article continues after the video).

Usually, the walk down the ramps was ordinary.  On special days and nights, though, they were a place of euphoria and electricity.  After big wins, the thick crowd on the ramps would scream “Let’s Go Mets” in unison, followed by a collective “woo!” The sounds of the cheers would echo throughout Shea’s structure, the noise becoming deafening at times.

After the Mets won Game 5 of the 2000 NLCS, punching their ticket to the World Series, I remember standing outside and watching as the stadium emptied out by way of the ramps.  Over the celebratory screams and honking horns in the parking lot, I could hear the chants coming from the ramps.  They were one of the parts of Shea that made it special, and one of the reasons why we miss it so much today.

Four years ago, on February 18th, 2009, the last section of those ramps came down.  It was the last twist of the knife that first pierced Mets fans right after the closing ceremony on September 28th, when Shea started to get dismantled piece by piece.  That day, when I watched the clip of the ramps coming down, I felt sick.  I won’t repeat the familiar thing people often say about Shea.  If you’re a Mets fan, you know what it is.  To me, and countless others, Shea was home.  On February 18th, 2009, my home crumbled.  It felt like a piece of my childhood went with it.

The person responsible for making me a Mets fan was my Grandfather.  He was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan who was heartbroken when the team moved west.  When the Mets arrived in 1962, he had a National League team again.  From then until his death in August of 2008, he watched or listened to pretty much every Mets game.  My Grandmother used to say that if he was sitting on the couch watching the Mets game and the roof caved in, he wouldn’t have noticed.

As Citi Field was rising in the parking lot next to Shea, I’d casually mention it to my Grandfather from time to time.  He would often comment that he didn’t think he’d make it to the new ballpark, and it turned out that he was right.  The night before he died, the last unprovoked words he uttered to me were “how’d the Mets do?”  He was of course referring to that day’s game.  The next day, he passed away.  I went outside to collect myself, and the first thing I saw out of the corner of my eye was a huge Mets flag flying from a house across the street.  It gave me a momentary sense of peace.

Six months later, when the ramps came down, I thought about my Grandfather and how he wouldn’t be around to make that trip to Citi Field.  I thought about my first memories of being inside Shea, about how it looked from the highway.  To me, Shea was always magical, it was just the level of magic that varied from game to game and season to season.  According to my father, the first time I went there was when I was two years old – the summer of 1986.  It was so hot that we had to take refuge in one of the small food places on the field level.

As I got older, my trips to Shea became more frequent and my love of the place more intense.  It was the walk up to and through the gates, the trip up the ramps, and the trek through the dark corridors on the way to your section.  After finding your section, you’d walk through the dark portal out into the seating bowl, often blinded by the sight of the sun and the field.

During the years when the Mets were contenders, the noise that would fill Shea was deafening.  They weren’t cheers as much as they were slow building eruptions that would last and last.  Shea engulfed you, swallowed you up.  If you were fortunate enough to be in the upper deck during a postseason game, you would feel the entire level shaking.  The moment after Endy Chavez made his catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, it felt as if the upper deck was about to collapse.  This isn’t an exaggeration.  People were standing and going absolutely insane, while at the same time being shaken by the movement of the stadium.

When you were at Shea for a Mets game, you were doing one of two things – watching the game, or rushing back to your seat from a food or bathroom break.  There was simply nothing else to do.  Being that you were there to watch a baseball game, that’s exactly as it should have been.

I have nothing against Citi Field.  After four seasons and the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise, it’s almost starting to feel like home.  It’s just not the same as Shea, nor will it ever be.  The Mets have yet to have a winning season while playing at Citi, and it’s difficult  to envision what the place will feel and sound like when we get to watch the Mets contend there.  Citi Field is a vastly different place to experience a game when compared to Shea.  Seemingly, there’s a different type of fan that’s been inhabiting it as well.

At Shea, the focus was the game.  At Citi, it often feels like people are paying half attention.  Perhaps that’s a byproduct of the fact that the team has been out of it by August each season the Mets have called the new place home.  Being that I’ve been yelled at and/or given dirty looks for standing when there’s two strikes on an opposing batter, or asked to be quiet when attempting to start a chant, I can’t help but feel that the magic and camaraderie we experienced at Shea went down with the old place.

I hope I’m wrong.  I hope that when the Mets have a team worthy of screaming our lungs out for, those of us who fill Citi Field will lose our voices rooting them on.  I hope that during a late September game with playoff implications, the place is filled to capacity and impossibly loud – but with every seat actually taken (instead of there being people strewn about the place making small talk).

The new place will never be Shea, but it truly is the fans who create the magic, not the structure.  If we display the same passion at Citi that we had at Shea, we can ensure that the place we called home until 2008 lives on.  If we make enough noise, it’ll travel all the way to the parking lot, where the last remnants of Shea reside.

 

 

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