The first in an occasional series.
I'm not going to sit here and defend Shea Stadium as one of the best ballparks of all time. Deep down inside, my dream of visiting all the different ballparks probably came about when I was younger because in my subconscious I might have been thinking, "There has to be something better out there."
But the bottom line is, Shea is where the Mets play, and for me, it will always be special. That's why I was psyched when The Wife mentioned going to Thursday afternoon's game. I realized that I won't have many more opportunities to visit Shea this year (this will in all likelihood be my last visit for a game - Billy Joel won't be the same - unless somehow the Mets can swing the playoffs and I can swing getting down there for them), and this is probably the only time The Wife and The Baby will be there. And with her pushing eight months pregnant (The Wife, not The Baby), I wasn't going to push it - so it being her decision, I'm loving it.
The suggestion for Thursday, though, made me think about my favorite memories of Shea. And I'm only considering events I attended, so I'm not going to talk about things like 1969, 1986, or anything involving the Jets. I'll do this once a week or so (maybe more) to share with you why this cookie-cutter ballpark will always be one of my favorites, right up there with the current jewels in Houston and San Diego.
My first memory (these are in no order) doesn't refer to a specific game, but moreso the times I spent at Shea when I was younger.
We lived very close to Shea, and through work, my dad had on-and-off again season ticket packages. So we went to a lot of games when I was younger - I'd say roughly 10 a season. Maybe more...some years less. Bottom line - I spent a lot of time at Shea, and often it was with my brother or sister. (Once a year we took about five of my friends in July for my birthday party.) And there was a period of time where my entire family (aunts, uncles, 10 cousins all together) went to either a Mets or Yankees game. Those were great.
I was into the games...often, my brother or sister (or both) weren't. Certain patterns developed over the years, and I see them as I thumb through old scorebooks (I always kept score - for a rough estimate of how many Shea games I went to, between 1986 and 1996, when I went away to college, I amassed 60 scorebooks. I kept score less as I got older, so I think it's still an accurate estimate of how many Mets games I went to per season.).
Anyway, back to the patterns - here's a look at a sample from 1991 - turns out this scorebook is from a Dodgers-Mets game, and you'll notice Hall of Famer Gary Carter, as well as Darryl Strawberry, are playing for the visiting Dodgers. I vaguely remember this game, but only after I pulled out the scorebook. (It also brings back painful memories of an early indication that Gary Carter talked too much - I think this was the series where Keith Miller made a costly error for the Mets that allowed the Dodgers to win the game, and Carter gave him a classless "Thanks, buddy" or something like that, then made a public show of apologizing. Actually, that might have happened in Los Angeles, because I seem to remember Carter boarding a Mets bus to apologize. But that's another story for another day.)
If you care enough to look closely (for some reason it's not clicking-and-enlarging), you'll notice a couple of things. First of all, there is an elephant at the bottom - for some reason I took to drawing elephants and monkeys (no monkey on this day) in between innings to keep my sister entertained.
In addition to flawless scorekeeping, you'll also notice on the left-hand side, below the Dodgers roster, a tally. This was something my sister invented while with my cousins at one of those games where everyone went - due to Shea's proximity to LaGuardia, there were a lot of planes that crossed overhead throughout a game. So I allowed her to keep a "Plane Tally" on my scorecard - a big sacrifice on my part. I have to believe there were more than 10 planes during this game - but maybe, ironically, the baseball game diverted her attention from the plane game.
I realize these are pretty individual memories, but I hope reading them stirs up something in your mind about some place that you may take for granted. Because the more I think about it, the more I realize that Shea Stadium played a significant part in my life...and while I'm looking forward to Citi Field, I'm going to enjoy looking back on my experiences at Shea.