Sunday, September 28, 2008

So Long, Shea

It is still to be determined whether this will be the final game ever in the history of Shea Stadium, as the weather will play a big part as to whether this is it. If they do play today, and the Mets win, there will be at least one more game at the old park.

Whatever happens, Shea Stadium is coming to its end. I will always have pleasant memories of the place. The Mets have needed a new park for some time, so Citi Field should be welcomed with open arms next season.

But Shea was the first MLB park I was ever in. I was 6 years old in 1968 when I went on a bus trip with my dad and the Knights of Columbus to see the Mets play the Giants. The memories I have of it are seeing Willie Mays play, Jerry Koosman pitch for the Mets and the Mets winning. I believe this was the game, played before a full house on a Friday night in June that year.

In 1969, I went to two games that year, both memorable ones. I went to Opening Day, which was also the first game ever in the history of the Montreal Expos. (I was also at the last one the Expos ever played, also at Shea in October 2004.) I remember thinking the Expos uniforms looked like they were wearing pajamas. The sharpest memory I have of the game was backup catcher Duffy Dyer hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to make the score 11-10 Montreal, which was the final.

I was also at a game on September 20, as the Mets were charging to the NL East title. Few people remember that Bob Moose of the Pittsburgh Pirates threw the second (and now last) no-hitter in the park's history, a 4-0 win. I remember my whole family got into upper level seats based solely on a huge number of Borden's coupons we saved up during the season. (I remember my dad just giving away the ones we had left over to other fans before the game.) In the game I recall Robero Clemente making a great catch in the corner late in the game making a great catch to save the no-hitter. It was one of the only losses the Mets suffered on their way to winning the World Series.

I went to numerous games in the 1970s, and on special days like Banner Day, when fans could make up banners and walk on the field in-between games of a doubleheader (remember those?). But by 1977, I was really disaffected by the Mets trade of Tom Seaver to Cincinnati, and it drove me away from the team. (That's when my affection for the Boston Red Sox began.) I took the Mets back on the day they were sold to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon in 1980, but hasn't been the same since those days of the early 1970s.

I've only been to one pennant-clinching game in my life live, and that was when the Mets wrapped up the NL East in 1988 over the Phillies. There have been upteen memorable moments in the history of Shea Stadium, and since everyone puts their list of them out with the stadium ending its run, I thought I would give you mine. (I will limit it to the top 5 Mets games, and the ones I remember witnessing, either on TV or in person.)

Before I get to the Top 5, here's the other five to round out the Top 10: Robin Ventura's grand slam single to beat the Braves in the 1999 NLCS; Todd Pratt's home run to win the 1999 ALDS over Arizona; The Mets first pennant clincher, over the Cardinals in September 1969; Willie Mays retires in 1973; Tom Seaver returns to Shea in 1983 for his second stint with the Mets.

5. Tom Seaver's "imperfect game" against the Cubs in 1969. I remember my neighbors trying to get into the park that night without tickets and had to come home without getting in. An enormous crowd witnessed Tom Seaver retire the first 25 hitters against the first place Cubs before a rookie named Jimmy Qualls broke up the perfect game with a clean single. One of the best pitched games I ever saw.

4. Bud Harrelson's fight with Pete Rose in the 1973 NLCS. You rarely see brawls in the postseason, but this was a dandy. Little Bud took on Big Bad Pete as the Mets were on their way to winning the 1973 pennant. I recall Mets players going out to calm the left field fans, who threw bottles at Rose in LF when he took his position after the fight. The umps were threatening a forfeit for the Mets if they didn't stop.

3. Mike Piazza's home run on September 21, 2001. The most emotional night in Shea's history, 10 days after the WTC disaster. It was the first game in NYC after it, and Piazza hit the most memorable homer in the park's history to give the Mets the win over the Braves to keep their pennant hopes alive. I'll never forget being in tears for the WTC victims during a really emotional pregame ceremony.

2. 1986 World Series win. No need to recap the highlights here, as you know them by heart. I've always felt that the Mets never get nearly enough credit for the phenomenal comeback in the 10th inning of Game 6, and Bill Buckner got far too much blame (John McNamara was the real goat in my opinion).

1. 1969 World Series win. The 1969 team is the most beloved team in its history. They were a 100-1 shot in April, and heavy underdogs against Baltimore. The series featured phenomenal pitching and three of the best catches in World Series history, by Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda. It will forever be remembered as one of American sports' biggest upsets.

I will always have a lot of affection for Shea Stadium, and it's time to say goodbye to the old place, as its time has passed. It served the Mets and New York well.

Thanks for the memories, Shea Stadium.

Hello Citi Field.