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So long, Shea: Mets close up shop

September 28, 2008|Mike Fitzpatrick | AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK -- By the way, Shea Stadium is closing, too.

Yankee Stadium's nostalgic goodbye garnered enormous attention across town, but hardly anyone seems affected by the New York Mets moving into a new ballpark next season as well.

Hello, sparkling Citi Field. Good riddance, dreary Shea Stadium.

"The ballpark really didn't wear well. I thought it got old in a hurry," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.

Opponents haven't exactly been toting tools to the mound so they can scoop up souvenir dirt, the sort of scene that became familiar at Yankee Stadium this year.

History in The House That Ruth Built means Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle.

In Queens, it includes "Fat Jack" Fisher and Felix Millan.

But that doesn't mean big Shea, with its leaky ceilings, pungent odors and noisy airplanes overhead, hasn't had its share of stars and unforgettable moments.

Say Hey, even Willie Mays is scheduled to attend the farewell festivities Sunday.

"I haven't been to Shea in quite a long time," he said. "New York is so big and wonderful, they need two good ballparks and that's what they got."

Don't forget, this was where Tom Seaver pitched the Miracle Mets to a World Series title in 1969.

Where the ball went through Buckner's legs, The Beatles changed rock 'n' roll and Joe Willie Namath took the Jets to the Super Bowl.

Where Jackie Robinson's number was retired -- for every big league team.

Where Robin Ventura hit that grand slam-single and Mike Piazza's homer heartened a wounded city in the wake of 9/11.

"This atmosphere is what gets you geeked up to play here. The fans being so loyal and so -- just crazy," said Atlanta slugger Chipper Jones, who had so much success in the stadium that he named one of his sons Shea.

The Mets' intimate new digs will be $800 million Citi Field, under construction in the Shea Stadium parking lot.

It's designed to resemble Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers through 1957, and it features a Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

The club has already moved its offices to Citi Field, where seating capacity will be about 45,000 -- down from 57,365 at Shea.

"This place is a little outdated," Jones said. "When you're actually out here, I see it as beautiful. When you're underneath, it's not so much."

Jim Bunning's perfect game on Father's Day 1964. Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson brawling in the 1973 playoffs. Tug McGraw yelling "Ya Gotta Believe!" en route to an improbable pennant.

Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Yogi Berra on the bench. That ominous black cat in front of the Chicago Cubs' dugout. Johnny Callison's home run to win the '64 All-Star game.

Endy Chavez's leap above the left-field wall. Tommie Agee's two clutch catches against Baltimore.

Darryl Strawberry's mammoth drives. Dwight Gooden, still a teenager, firing fastballs by everyone.

Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez and the '86 champs. Jesse Orosco's glove hurled high in the air. Lenny Dykstra and Todd Pratt, unlikely October heroes.

"This wasn't Yankee town. This was Met town. We owned this town, and we were proud to own this town," Strawberry said Friday as the club began its weekend celebration. "We had a lot of swagger about ourselves."

But there was plenty of pain, too. More agony than ecstasy during 45 Amazin' seasons.

Tom Glavine and the 2007 collapse. Strike three to Carlos Beltran. Seaver's trade to Cincinnati, known as The Midnight Massacre. The Say Hey Kid past his prime.

"It's not so much the stadium itself I'll miss," Seaver said through Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz. "More than the stadium or the seats or the field, it's the people who I was associated with in my career. Those are the memories I'll take out of here when we walk out of here the last time on Sunday."

Piazza smiled Friday, fondly remembering when the team would return from a road trip and pull into the parking lot about 2 a.m. That's when Pratt would pipe up on the bus.

"Well, it's not much boys, but it's home," he would say.

"As maybe antiquated as this ballpark was, it was charming," Piazza said. "There's a lot of teams that didn't want to come here to play."

A state-of-the-art facility at first, Shea Stadium opened on April 17, 1964, with a 4-3 Mets loss to Pittsburgh. Next door, the World's Fair was held at Flushing Meadows that month.

The ballpark was named for attorney William Shea, instrumental in bringing a National League team to New York after the Giants and Dodgers migrated to California for the 1958 season.

The Mets played their first two seasons at the old Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan, losing a record 120 games in their expansion year of 1962. When they moved into their massive new home, some were awe-struck.

"Do you think we are good enough to play in this stadium?" Rod Kanehl asked teammate Bill Wakefield, according to a story Wakefield recounts in the Mets' media guide.

The lower stands were movable, allowing the field to be set up for New York Jets football games through 1983. Then, the Jets left for Giants Stadium.

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