Long before baseball playoffs, before Super Bowl III, before the Miracle Mets, the Jets still played at Shea, and the two sports seasons hardly overlapped. The Amazin’s would schedule their last series for the road (half the teams have to anyway), and the Jets traveled to their first game (half the teams have to anyway) and during that final week of the summer season the grounds crew would convert the field from a diamond to a gridiron and Mike Medina and I would bike there after school and watch.
If it were early enough in the week the bullpen would still exist and that’s where we would go to throw a football back and forth and watch the crew move rows of seats around or fill in the dugout. Mike would throw one high overhead and I was George Sauer stepping back to catch a perfect Broadway Joe spiral. In my mind the day is always blue for the sky and green for the outfield and the air is clean and silent except for the distant roar of jets at LaGuardia.
I have a lot of memories of Mets and Mets games—the doubleheader where only 3 runs were scored in 30 innings (the only game I remember my mother going to); getting Ron Hunt’s autograph at the department store around the corner from my neighborhood library; eating two tables away from Joe Torre at an Italian restaurant in nearby Corona; the game when Ron Swoboda caught three fly balls in one inning and I proudly told my father that that had to be a major league record—but that’s my only fond memory of the stadium itself. It’s an ugly little park, stodgy, overly symmetrical, named for a political hack. But the pattern of orange and blue tiles that surrounds its exterior evoke for me the early 1960s, when Jack and Jackie were still in the White House and my parents never fought.
I was there the night the Mets took first place for the first time in club history. That summer, 1969, I was 13. I would open up the Long Island Press after school to see who was pitching. If it was Seaver or Koosman I would ask my mother—this was the year before she started working, the year before their divorce—for $1.70, enough for a general admission ticket and two subway tokens. I don’t remember who the Mets played but they won the first game of a doubleheader, and Montreal lost their game. For the next hour or so, the Mets led the league by a few percentage points, until they dropped the nightcap. First place was as ephemeral as these memories—as ephemeral, it turns out, as the stadium itself.
The Mets played their last game at Shea tonight. I don’t don’t know who won, and I don’t much care these days. I’ll miss the sport not at all and the stadium only a little. Baseball is too expensive, too spoiled, too full of itself as the national pastime. The playoffs have trivialized the season, and instant-replays on a giant television screen trivialize the time spent at the park. The season stumbles into frosty October now. That’s not a problem for the grounds crew, because the Jets decamped to a bigger, cleaner—if no prettier—stadium in New Jersey decades ago. Goodbye, Shea.