When Shea opened in April of 1964, it was considered a part of
    the World’s Fair.  On programs and on posters you’d see it called “Shea
    Stadium at the New York World’s Fair.”  I remember that there was an ad
    in one of the Mets’ programs or scorecards which said that the Fair was
    just a “dinosaur’s throw” from the stadium.  The ad was for the Sinclair Oil
    Company, whose Fair exhibit featured models of dinosaurs.  The stadium
    was right next to the Fair.  You could walk or take a shuttle bus.  Shea was
    a part of the Fair that would fulfill the promise that the future would be
    better than the past.   The Fair would close after two years, but Shea would
    go into the future with us.  

                 Shea looked like the Fair.  I know that this is hard for younger
    fans to believe because in the last years of its life the stadium had the
    architectural equivalent of 1980s hair.  I mean, I loved it and all, but the
    exceptionally deep Mets blue and the elaborate  stylishness of the neon
    sculptures of ballplayers, and the photo montages of the Championship
    years, and all the Pepsi and Budweiser stuff that had been stuck onto the
    scoreboard, made Shea look very different from the way it had looked in
    its youth.  When it opened, Shea wasn’t blue.  It was a kind of sand color, a
    pinkish tan.  The first new stadium built in over thirty years, it didn’t look
    like the older stadiums.  It didn’t have any wood or brick or columns.  It
    didn’t look like the sort of place in which you might as well be watching a
    horse race.  Shea looked monumental across a parking lot, yet it made no
    reference to the monumental architecture of the past.  Immense and
    relentlessly modern and round, it looked like a flying saucer that had just
    landed.  I suppose, in a way, it also looked as if it could take off at a
    moment’s notice.  In 1964, there was this idea that it was a good thing to
    have nothing to do with the past, to look as if you were a visitor from outer

                 The main decoration on the exterior of Shea were squiggly blue
    and orange aluminum panels suspended on thin, almost invisible cables.  
    The panels had the same audacity of color you saw everywhere at the
    Fair.  They looked like the cozy futuristic Howard Johnsons that were
    scattered all across the country at the time. The panels were part of
    something that was happening right at that moment in history, on
    television, in movies, and everywhere.  Everything that had always been in
    black-and-white was suddenly in color.  The blue and orange panels at
    Shea were like the brilliant animated opening credit sequences you saw at
    the beginning of movies in 1964 and 1965.  They were asymmetrical and
    irregular.  They looked as if they were about to change their shape, or
    change from one thing into another.  Since you could hardly see the cables
    to which they were attached, they appeared to be floating, and perhaps
    rising.  I always thought they looked like the bubbles I loved to watch as
    they rose inside a glass of Coca Cola.  The panels made Shea look cool,
    hip, modern, and friendly.

                 Contributing to the sense of Shea’s colorful hipness was the fact
    that the seats in the stadium were a different color in each level.  The Field
    Boxes were a soft yellow, the Loge was bright orange, the Mezzanine was
    a pretty dark blue, and the Upper Deck was old-fashioned baseball park
    green.   Stadium seats were normally only one color at that time.  But Shea
    was like a rainbow with an arc of 300 degrees.  The scoreboard too was
    striking.  Seen from behind, it was sleek, sweeping, and white, like
    something on the Jetsons, or like the TWA terminal at Kennedy airport.  It
    looked like a big white vampire with a big square head and an immense
    white cloak.  From the front, it offered state of the art information with
    little electric lights on a dark display.  It didn’t talk or make noise, but it
    gave you what you needed, scores and stats, welcomes to civic groups,
    birthday wishes, warnings not to throw objects on the field.  It would also
    tell you proudly when you were listening to Jane Jarvis, Shea’s Queen of
    Melody, on the Thomas Organ.  

                 At the top of the scoreboard, on the right, was a big black clock
    with white hands.  It was a real clock that said Longines on it.  Time wasn’t
    digitized yet.  There were ads on the scoreboard but they didn’t overwhelm
    it the way the Pepsi-Budweiser blotches did in the stadium’s final years.  
    There was a Rheingold logo at the top and a Rheingold ad at the bottom.  I
    loved Rheingold and I had already decided that it would be “my beer”
    when I was an adult.  From the lovely waltz jingle of the commercials, I
    gathered that adults had specific beers.  My parents didn’t drink much
    beer so I hadn’t known that.  I liked the idea in the jingle and the ads that
    Rheingold was “extra dry.”  I didn’t understand what this meant but I liked
    the way it sounded and I liked the name Rheingold a lot too.  It made the
    beer sound as if it was a golden liquid that somehow came from a winding
    river with romantic castles along the side of it.  

                 At some point in the sixties, the Rheingold ad at the bottom of the
    scoreboard acquired a picture of a glass stein with an enormous head of
    foam.  The Rheingold ads and commercials always had these glass steins
    with beads of moisture on the side of them and enormous white foamy
    heads.  People who argue that ads for alcoholic beverages makes young
    people want to try them should understand that they do in fact have this
    effect.  I imagined that it would be wonderful to drink such a beverage.  I
    could imagine how wonderful the foam must taste.  The ad on the
    scoreboard said “The Ten-Minute Head, Haven’t You Timed It Yet?”  It
    was as if there was something wrong with you if you didn’t time your beer
    head to see how long it would take to flatten out.  Did you have to wait for
    it to be gone before you drank your beer?  I hoped not.  It looked
    delicious.  It looked like foamy melting ice cream that rose up out of
    something golden.  I couldn’t wait to grow up and drink my beer,
    Rheingold, the dry beer, the beer of the New York Mets.

                 The feeling of old Shea was not just created by architecture and
    ads.  There was also this funky Mets thing that everyone was into.  There
    was a universal sense that we were rooting for a last place team that had
    little hope of being anything but a last place team for quite a while yet.  So
    to compensate for our team’s mediocrity, we had to be the most
    enthusiastic and colorful fans in baseball.  The franchise had to have
    something that made it distinctive in a good way.  As what Casey Stengel
    had called “the New Breed,” we Mets fans played the part for all it was
    worth.  We channeled the legendary nuttiness of Dodger fans and the
    stubbornness of Giant fans.  We screamed and cheered for players who did
    not deserve the extravagance of our affection.  We hung our scruffy
    banners from the balconies of the immaculate new ballpark and on windy
    days they would look like laundry flapping on a clothesline.  With the noisy
    crowd and the flapping sheets, you could almost imagine hearing the cries
    of vendors with their pushcarts.  New York’s working class, abandoned by
    the Dodgers and the Giants, moved into the new palace of a stadium as if it
    was meant for them.  It was.  We were New York too.  Our team didn’t win
    as much as the Yankees.  But the Mets had better, more passionate fans.  
    We liked how we were supposed to be so over the top.  We liked being
    nutty, but warm and generous.  We liked rooting for something that people
    in other places couldn’t see the point of.  We liked being New Yorkers.

                 The way memory actually works, I can’t tell you for sure when I
    first went to a game at Shea.  I know that I celebrated my tenth birthday
    with my family at the Fan Appreciation Day Doubleheader that was played
    against Cincinnati on Sunday, September 27, 1964.  I remember Charlie
    Smith getting three hits and Tracy Stallard losing his twentieth game of the
    season.  It was at that part of the old Mets’ seasons when the statistics
    would start getting really ugly, when we would pass 100 losses and some of
    the pitchers would get their twentieth losses.  I have a sense that we went
    to a game earlier than that but I can’t remember which one it was and
    neither can my mother who is the only person I can ask.  I remember that
    on the first game I went to at Shea, I  looked through the binoculars my
    father bought in Tokyo when he was fighting in Korea and saw Casey
    Stengel on the dugout bench, his head in his hand, asleep.  I thought I
    remembered Sandy Koufax on the mound at that game.  I do remember
    Sandy Koufax on the mound.  I remember him very vividly.  But the only
    appearance Koufax would have made at Shea in 1964 was a Thursday
    night game and we wouldn’t have gone to a Thursday night game.  I see
    Koufax in the daylight.  I see his intensity and his lean face and black
    stubble through the binoculars.  But the game I am remembering has to
    have been his Saturday afternoon appearance on June 12, 1965.  My
    memories of Shea, in the early years, like your memories too, I would
    guess, are not neatly ordered in a list of box scores.  They are a soup.  
    Things come floating by.  They sink down, they surface.  More is there
    than you see at first, but things aren’t connected.  I remember what I felt, I
    remember impressions, but I don’t remember who fouled out to end the

                 We always brought food to the game and we never parked in the
    parking lot.  My parents could have afforded to buy food at the stadium
    and they could have afforded to park their car in the parking lot, but as a
    matter of economic principle, they never did.  They had grown up poor in
    Brooklyn in the Thirties and had gone to Ebbetts Field plenty of times and
    this was the way they liked their baseball.  You could spend money on
    other things, but with baseball, the idea was just to be there with
    everybody else.  If it mattered so much to you to see the players close up,
    you could stay home and watch the game on TV.  

                 We always parked our car for free under the Whitestone
    Expressway, carrying the hamper with food that they wouldn’t let you take
    in now.  We never bought anything from the vendors but I remember how
    excited I always was to see them, shouting with their boxes.  I wanted to be
    a vendor someday.  I also would have loved to have had a hot dog from a
    vendor, but I never asked for one, and I never believed my mother who
    told me that they weren’t as good as the hot dogs we were used to from
    places like Katz’s and Nathan’s at Coney Island.  They looked so good.  
    Sure they were expensive.  Maybe they weren’t as good as Katz’s as
    Nathan’s, but I bet they tasted as good.  I bet there was nothing that
    tasted as good as a hot dog you ate in the stands at a ballgame.  

                 We always sat in the Upper Deck.  Those were good enough seats
    and we were a family of five.  The players were far away, but you could
    still see what they were doing.  You couldn’t see their faces, but you could
    kind of make out that the players were the people that the numbers on
    their backs indicated.  Ballplayers still wore those old fashioned uniforms
    with the knickers-type pants and the socks that were stirrups.  They were
    just like my little league uniforms.  And so when you saw them playing on
    the green grass and on the smooth infield, they looked like the very idea of
    baseball players.  That silhouette, that form, could belong to nothing but a
    ballplayer playing their game far away.  And it could be 1920 or it could be
    1935 or it could be 1964.  You were watching baseball.  

                 Going to a Mets game was pleasure from the moment we drove
    out of our driveway to the moment we drove back into it.  Even a boring
    game was wonderful.  It was hard to explain why going to the stadium was
    so much more fun than listening to the game on the radio or watching it on
    TV, because at the ballpark, you often didn’t have a clear understanding of
    what was going on.  Why was that an error?  What are they taking so much
    time to talk about on the field?  What did this guy do the last time he came
    up?  But when you were at the game, you were in the place where it was
    happening.  You saw that it was real, that it was not rehearsed or scripted.  
    It was a joy and a festival and it didn’t need any special hype to make you
    feel that way.  The scoreboard was enough, the organ was enough, the
    giant crowd in the enormous bowl was enough.  It was enough to be in the
    open air, in the famous place, with all these people you would probably
    never see again but with whom you had an intense and eternal bond.  It is
    still like this for me.  It is still the same.  I don’t know what it must be like
    to be the fan of a team that sells out all of its seats for every game.  They
    didn’t have teams like that in the Sixties.  The stadiums were always big
    enough for everybody.  Anybody could go to a major league baseball game
    whenever they wanted to for not all that much money.  How can this be
    preserved in the future?  This can’t be lost.  This shouldn’t be lost.  For all
    of its costs and all of its inconveniences, there is nothing like being at a
    ballgame.  It offers a high that it is impossible to get from any other
    source.   We spend enough time in our living rooms.  We spend enough
    time in our cars.  We spend enough time at our computers.  We need to go
    places.  We need to be open to the sky and to be lifted up on the sound of
    so many other voices.  We need to know what it feels like to be there, to
    be in the place where it is, where our senses can be filled and even flooded
    by the things that we love that are happening.    

                 Shea will always be the 1960s to me, the decade in which my spirit
    took shape.  It was part of my original conception of the world, my original
    idea of perfect fun.  And since I no longer think that the great big beautiful
    tomorrow is shining at the end of every day, and since I have a somewhat
    more complicated understanding of what life and love entail, when Shea is
    gone all I will have left of my original conception of the world is my love of
    the Mets.  There will be nothing big and physical.  There will only be this
    living fossil inside my soul.  I will miss Shea so much.  Shea was cool.  Shea
    was kind of old and rickety in the end.  But in the beginning it was a
    glamorous present that promised a spectacular future.  It was the Gateway
    to the World of Tomorrow.  It was in Technicolor and in Cinerama.  

    ©Dana Brand 2009