Great Stadiums (10): Big Beautiful Shea Stadium

A rendition of Shea Stadium (named for William Alfred Shea) with the dome that never was: looking suspiciously like the Houston Astrodome.

I (Evander) went wild first visiting the then-new home of the New York Mets (short for Metropolitans), something like 55 years ago.

Ground was broken for “Flushing Meadow Park Municipal Stadium” on October 28, 1961.

Shea was McLuhan-cool.

It had escalators.

It had big-sized suburban, Horace Greeley-style parking.

It had exterior-aluminum ’60s-colored Go-Go panels suspended by cables that you could shake from the ramps: an incentive to avoid the Everest-peak escalators, especially on the post-game way down and out.

The game—or anything happening on field-level—was a rumor from the nosebleed seats of the upper deck.

A few years into its run, Tom Seaver would qualify as everybody’s nutty older cousin. On the first Earth Day-game at Shea, Tom Terrific would strike out the last 10 batters he faced.

It hosted the Beatles two times and was rumored to star a-rockin’ Bob Dylan (to prove that the times they were a-changin’) a year later.

Here Nolan Ryan struck out his first batter, fellow-rookie pitcher Pat Jarvis (no relation, as far as ROTB knows, to organist Jane Jarvis).

It was set up for the New York Jets, a team that switched its name from “Titans” so that only a consonant need be changed above the concession stands. Joe Namath passed for a stunning championship comeback in the permafrost and wind of December 29, 1968. The season before, only his third and best, Namath passed for a then-astounding 4,007 yards, roughly half of these at always-hip Shea.

Shea in early fall: reaching out to Namath.

A couple spins round the sun and peekaboo-safety panels were retrofitted to permit fans on lower levels a view into the bullpens.

There was almost no day-game shade on ticket lines or in the parking lot; these to-be-pitied urban trees reminded me of the sparsely treed and, frankly, mostly cheesy Freedomland of the northeast Bronx, whose Satellite City featured a metropolis under a hard-plastic, see-through cover that was almost out of  DC Comics.

Shea was intended to be domed, as was built in Houston, with a concrete or steel velarium inspired by ancient Rome. (Buckminster Fuller designed a so-called Dodger Dome to retain the Brooklyn team from migrating to Los Angeles. This and proposals similar to Fuller’s are found online.)

The Eighth Wonder of the World: No one could see balls hit high in the air during day games for the translucent-dome panels and girders. Even the grass died later, tho almost everyone could buy a behind-the-massive-dugouts seat.

The planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport were obnoxiously loud.

It was next door to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

There were no fuddy-duddy bleachers at the beginning. Much later, there were friendly outfield stands, a picnic area, and those Piazza-tent shots.

Three indelibly memorable World Series were played there as well as the first-ever National League Championship Series.

Not one of the several concrete ashtrays of the era, Shea Stadium, by any objective measure, may yet have been the worst park in which to see a major-league game. To top (or bottom) things: The years had not been kind to Shea, which always was big but not beautiful…except in the eye of this once-young beholder, even in his ear….


About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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