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?

4 Comments

  1. Jon says: - reply

    Nice post…as an avid Brewers fan living in Milwaukee, I can relate to a team simply “existing.” Miller Park replaced County Stadium back in 2001 for the sole purpose of keeping the Crew in Milwaukee. They don’t win much, but people seem satisfied with a high-tech park where tickets are readily available.
    Anways, you guys are a half-game up on the Wild Card…good luck!

  2. Russell Kahn says: - reply

    Hey, nice post. Neat perspective on the origins of Met fandom. My first baseball game was at Shea. I think that’s actually what inspired me to become a Yankees fan–that, and the fact that the orange and pale blue always made me feel a little queasy. Felt the need to respond to a few things from the post:
    “More importantly, at Shea, you can get tickets. Shea Stadium is big. It almost never sells out.”
    Shea Stadium’s capacity is basically identical to Yankee Stadium’s. Both fill up at about 56-57K.
    I went to the lowest-attended game in modern Yankee Stadium history in the early 1990s–about 5,000. I’d like to see how the teams’ attendances changed over the last 40 years. Did Shea used to attract more fans when they had Gooden and Strawberry? How is it that the team, in the midst of a pennant race, in the final weeks of the stadium, cannot sell out a Saturday afternoon game?
    The Yanks only started attracting big crowds in the late 1990s. I wonder if the people will stop coming in droves now that they’re not a playoff team.
    “There are still nights when you can get into the ballpark for $5.”
    There were at least 11 such games at Yankee Stadium when $5 tickets were available. Good seats, too. So that’s not a unique trait to the Mets’ home park.
    I will say that CitiField is pretty nice looking. And as far as corporate names go, it’s not bad. I’m looking forward to checking it out next season.

  3. Jesse says: - reply

    Word. Well, regardless of capacity and $5 nights (I think the Mets had more than 11 this year, though I haven’t checked), it’s still a fairly casual thing to get to a Mets game. Shea just doesn’t have the same cache as Yankee Stadium, and–besides the difference in fanbases–I’d say it’s a safe bet that not as many people go to Shea just for the sake of seeing the ballpark. Whatever it is, I suspect it’s almost always easier to decide to go a game on gameday at Shea and not worry about getting in.

  4. Russell Kahn says: - reply

    Here are the attendance figures from 2001-2008:
    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/attendance
    Interestingly, the Mets have the #2 highest attendance this year–by far–behind only the Yanks’ numbers. Man, there is gonna be more than 8 million baseball tickets sold in NYC this year.
    Going back further: http://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/1980-89attendance.htm
    The Mets drew more fans than the Yanks each year from 1984-1992, but since then the Bombers have drawn more. Fascinating.