Memories of Shea
The Mets lining the field during the 2000 World Series at Shea.
A Lasting Memory With Dad
My father took me to my first baseball game sometime in September 1972. It was such an unforgettable experience that I can still recall images from that game today, as if it just happened yesterday. It was a beautiful evening- late September. From a very young age, I was crazy about baseball. My big hero was Tom Seaver.
The stadium was Shea Stadium, in my opinion, the world capital of baseball. Until then my only visual contact with big-league baseball had been on a 10-inch, black-and-white television screen, so I was not prepared when the subway train shot into the sunlight of the elevated tracks at the 74th Street-Broadway / Roosevelt Avenue stop in Jackson Heights. Color was everywhere. My father lifted me up so I could see.
I remember my eyes taking in the beautiful, green field, the baselines, and the bases. That day has stayed with me through these 40 years and I can see it just as clearly as way back then. The best part was coming in to take our seats. We had seats along the first base line in the second deck. The Mets were playing the Pirates. My father had just gotten me just gotten me a program and my father was starting to explain keeping score. A player on the Pirates had made history that day by hitting a milestone homerun. However, I do not remember who it was. Then the game was over. In retrospect, it was an ordinary ballgame. But, to me it was just so special-my first baseball game and I was with my dad. The Mets lost, 5-0.
After that, it was time for us to leave. We had talked about batting and hitting and home runs and players, but nine innings on a cool September night with a little boy who loved every minute of being there was a great start to what should be many years of total fun.
We headed out of the gate to our parking lot. On our way out, I remember talking to my dad about how much fun we had. I was glad that the day was everything I had hoped it would be, and a little more. We took the subway back to Penn Station and found seats together on a crowded commuter train. Looking out the window at the creeping twilight, I felt sadness. My father, reading my face, asked me what was wrong. I told him I didn’t know. He said it was okay to be sad and not know why. It seems to me now that this ride marked the first time my father had really taken me anywhere-as he was very, very sick. He had blood clots in his legs and was in and out of the hospital. Mom had always prepared me for the worst.
When we got home, my I couldn’t wait to tell my mom all about our day. I didn’t leave out a detail, from telling her how quickly the ice cream melted, to how many people were there (“there must have been a million”, I said; there were more like 40,000), and how men walked around selling lemonade. I told mom in my sweet, little-girl voice, with a big, wide-eyed smile on my face, “today was the best day of my entire life.”
One night, nearly 6 months later in March 1973, my father died at the age of 47. This day has stayed with me through these 40 years and I can see it just as clearly as way back then. The remembrance of sharing one of the greatest days’ of my life with my father coupled with a profound love for the game, is now passed along to my own son.
Opening Day, First And Last
We were street kids, growing up in Queens at a time when everyone in the “neighborhood” took responsibility for raising us. If Mrs. Barongi from Murray Lane caught us doing something wrong, we knew that our mothers would know about it quicker then our feet could carry us home.
It was a simple time. As long as you were home by the time the street lights went on, you were safe. And if you had access to a stick or an empty refrigerator box or a spaldeen to play with, you wanted for nothing. It was then, as an eight-year-old kid that the circle started for me.
Mr. Gill, a social worker for the City of New York (and our neighbor) had about 10 kids. Everywhere you went there was a “Gill kid.” I was good friends with several of them. One day, Mr. Gill came home with 20 tickets (that his boss, Mayor Wagner gave him) to see that brand new baseball team, the New York Metropolitans, at the brand new baseball stadium that was built just a few miles from where we lived ... Shea Stadium. The game was to be played against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 17, 1964. The very first Opening Day. I had never seen a real baseball game. This was to be my first. Mr. Gill packed his old doge station wagon with kids and headed out to Shea with a “Gill kid” hanging out of every window.
When we arrived we marveled at the size of the place. There were no walls! The facade was made up of fiberglass squares that were attached to cables that reached for the sky. Our tickets were for the upper level, which meant a ride on the largest escalator I had ever seen in my life. I was dizzied by the experience and my excitement was almost uncontrollable.
But the best memory I have in my life was walking through the tunnel for our section in left field and witnessing (for the very first time) that beautiful expanse unfold. The grass was the greenest I had ever seen. The smell of hot dogs, cigar smoke and beer filled the air. The sounds of Jane Jarvis on the organ echoed as if almost floating through the stadium. The grounds crew was watering the field in beautiful patterns. My senses were being attacked in a way that would change my life. Then out came the white knights (My Mets...My new favorite team) to take the field.
Even though we lost that day, it didn’t matter. This team was from Flushing. They were mine, and through thick or thin, they were mine forever!
I have experienced much in that Queens cathedral throughout the years. My son was 3 months old when I brought him to his first game at Shea. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary there. Shea will always have a special place in my heart.
Tomorrow, April 8, 2008, I will go to the last Opening Day at Shea. The circle will be complete. There will be many more triumphs for the Mets and Met fans alike in the years to come... But there will never be another Shea....