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                FOR SHEA

                     FOR SHEA

The Mets have unveiled their plans for a new stadium.  It looks very nice.  
It will be smaller than Shea and it will look like Ebbets Field.  It will have
wider seats and more legroom.  And the field will be closer to the stands.  
Like most Met fans, I am impressed.  Like many Met fans, I am ambivalent.

I know that Shea doesn’t deserve to be mourned.  But I will miss it terribly.  
I remember when it was young, when it opened besides the World’s Fair,
when it was part of the City of the Future.  Who was to know that the real
future would prefer Ebbets Field?  Shea was so hopeful, with its big and
bright modernity, with its ruffled pieces of blue and orange metal up and
down its fat sides.   Eventually, the blue and orange metal pieces fell off or
were taken down.  And so they were replaced by fluid, gigantic neon
sketches of players in action, bright and lovely on a painted surface of deep
Mets blue.  This looked all right, but there was nothing that could be done
about all the bad ideas in the interior.  

As soon as you walk into Shea, you don’t know what you’re inside of.  You
feel like you’ve been forgotten about, or perhaps eaten.  Staircases, ramps,
and escalators come out of nowhere and you can’t see what they’re attached
to.  There are no focal points or spaces, just lit ads and posters that
someone seems to have put up a long time ago.  

Sure the seats and rows are cramped, but I like them.  You feel as if you’re
in the middle of other people’s lives. You hear their conversations and
nothing prevents you from joining them.  You are along on the dates with the
girls snuggling against the guys for warmth.  The nut has to be lived with.
The guy next to you on the edge of his seat can’t sit still and therefore you
can’t either.  At Shea you are attached to the crowd, physically and
emotionally, and when people stand up and scream, you are pulled up with
them because you can’t pull away from them.

In the new stadium, I will probably like being closer to the action on the
field.  But I’m not really convinced that smaller is good.  Try getting tickets
for a game at Fenway.  I like how big Shea is.  I like it when it has 55,000
people in it.  I like how noisy it can get.  I like its awkward incoherent
immensity, which never feels oppressive because so many things at Shea
are so silly, like Mr. Met and the apple in the hat and the t-shirt launches
and Lou Monte singing Lazy Mary at the seventh-inning stretch.  Shea has
a personality.  It is big and goofy and unsophisticated.  It inspires the
stadium characters who come and go over the years, who make themselves
famous by holding up signs or beating cow-bells.  It inspires vendors and
ushers to be characters.  It inspires sentimentality and manic energy.  It is
very New Yorky in an old-fashioned way.  The smaller, stylish stadium
might preserve some of what Shea has.  But I’ll bet it won’t be the same.

I love Shea.  I can’t help it.  It’s been part of my life for over forty years.  I
will miss the name: a quick syllable.  I will miss what I feel every time I
approach the blue bowl wrapped in its web of highways.  I love to drive into
the parking lot where people are picnicking just to be near it.  I love it in the
sun and the wind, and I love it when the lights turn the nighttime into
magical bright green daylight.   I love it when the Mets win the game in their
last turn at bat, and the echoing exit ramps vibrate with the voices of
thousands of people who can’t stop chanting and cheering.

However much I love it, I can’t even hope to make an argument for keeping
Shea.  My only argument is a selfish one.  I don’t want a new stadium
because it won’t contain my memories.  Part of the reason I go to Shea is to
visit my memories.  I remember my childhood birthdays.  I remember
Tommie Agee hitting a leadoff homer into the edge of the upper deck.  I
remember Clendenon's long swing and Piazza's short swing.  I remember
Seaver's rising fastball and Strawberry's first game.  I remember the
intimate emptiness of the stadium in the lean years, the urgent carnival
atmosphere of the good years.  

When I go to Shea, I feel as if I am visiting my father and several long lost
versions of my daughter.  I visit all of the different eras of my life, and all of
the different teams and players who gave me so much happiness as I grew
up and grew older.  So many pieces of my life are connected by the
fundamentally unchanging experience of a game at Shea.  So much of what I
have known and been seems held in the great curved embrace of the stands,
in the rich green symmetry of the field, in the chaos of girders and
buttresses and bathrooms and frying food on the concourse behind the
seats.  So much of me is here, in this thing that can be torn down but can’t
be replaced.

Here is where all those seasons happened.  Here is where we ran onto the
field in 1969.  Here is where the ball went through Buckner’s legs.  Shea is
where I’ve been.  I will miss it as I miss a parent or a grandparent.  I know it
has to go.  But I wish it could have been there for all of my life.  I will endure
its passing, but I would have loved to have been an old man in these seats,
under these lights.

©Dana Brand 2006