Mets fans remember Shea magic
Move to Citi Field won't dampen ballpark memories
NEW YORK -- Citi Field offers no escape to the wandering eye at Shea Stadium, imposing on the center-field skyline and reinforcing the imminent and often sold-as-necessary change to come.
For its creators, Shea's 45th season reached the cutoff from nostalgic to outdated. While the venue harbored two World Series winners and seven 100-game losers, equally endearing to Mets fans in either magnificence or melancholy, the common fan still holds dear the smeared orange and blue seats along with the peeled paint on the railings.
The move, most admit, is understandable. But that doesn't mean tears won't be shed, and an understanding from Mets fans doesn't necessarily equal acceptance of the stadium's closing.
Joe Stevenson, 39, plans on cozying up to Shea Stadium's aged walls on Sunday, reacquainting himself with every bolt and hole that has served as his baseball home since his first game in 1977.
"I am going to give the building a big hug," Stevenson said. "You lived in a place for 30 years, you find a nice new home, but you still have fond memories of the place. You are still sad to see it go. You know, your mom gets old -- she doesn't look as attractive as she did when she was younger -- but you don't replace her. You don't replace your wife or your sister because they have gray hair."
Tears will be shed, Stevenson promised, adding that he might need to be carried out in a wheelbarrow. A diehard Mets fan, he ran signs to his father as a child, embracing both the franchise's best teams and their worst. A hot dog, a view of the field and a few friends in neighboring seats -- that's all he needs.
Does Citi Field seem inviting? Of course it does. That doesn't mean he won't weigh what is lost and what is gained moving from the old to the new.
"See, there are a lot of people out there who criticize Shea, say it's old and stumpy. I love it," Stevenson said. "I don't come here for concourses. I come here for the game. There is a beautiful field -- a big, huge amphitheater -- it's grand."
Former photographer and court clerk Steve Spak, 53, walked around the field level at Shea Stadium with multiple cameras slung around his neck. He doesn't care much for the venue itself, much as he didn't care for Yankee Stadium when he attended its final game, but Spak came to document history.
In the background of his video recording will be the ambient sound of an era lost to newness. While others scream for change, Spak wants images and memories for his descendants to remember. It's not so much baseball history as it is New York history.
"In the seventh-inning stretch, when they play 'God Bless America' and the 'Meet the Mets' song, you remember that," said Spak, who saw his first Mets game in 1966. "They've been doing that for years. You remember it."
Just the same, Citi Field could offer Mets fans an experience.
"You can sit in a restaurant, blow smoke, eat your ribs and watch the game. What's better than that? If you have to pay through the nose to do it," Spak said.
Most fans at least seem open to giving Citi Field a chance. Tim Redling, 22, first visited Shea Stadium when he was 4 years old. He found himself "kicking and screaming" on the way to the game with his father, but he now does the same exiting the gates.
With a new stadium coming, Redling received a melodramatic text message from friend Mike Murawinski upon arriving at his Shea Stadium good-bye visit. "Ah, the end of an era. But alas, all ends are their own beginnings," Murawinski wrote, "however bright or dark."
"Did it age well? Sure, like a fine wine. Shea only got better with age," Redling said jokingly. "Granted, Shea isn't as old or as prestigious as Yankee Stadium, but it's Shea. It's our home away from home ... away from home."
Richie Ramirez, 50, and his cousin Tommy used to buy Elmhurst Milk and redeem the coupons for Shea Stadium seats back in the '70s. Now, he accompanies his wife, Laura, to field-level seats, thinking about Tommy, who recently passed away because of a heart problem.
A brick in Citi Field's walkway will be dedicated to him, and they intend on seeing it when they attend games there next season. But Richie and Laura will always remember Tommy for his fondness of Shea -- he has the Mets logo engraved on his tombstone.
"This stadium's old. It's seen better days, but a lot of good memories," Ramirez said, actually taking comfort in days when the Mets were losers. "We used to sneak down to the front rows, because no one was in the stadium."
They sat close to where Mets radio announcer Howie Rose says the 1969 Mets had their "Bat Mitzvah" during Tom Seaver's "Imperfect Game," Mookie Wilson's ball would roll through Bill Buckner's legs, and Darryl Strawberry dared fans to boo him in tune with the rise and fall of the Big Apple in the outfield.
"You can have Citi Field," Stevenson said. "I'll take this place. This is a place for fans. I love everything. ... I'll be at Citi Field when it opens up and everything, but nothing will ever beat the magic of this place. They always talk about that Mets' magic -- this building was a big part of the magic."
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.