Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We'll Miss You Shea

My Grandfather was born in 1913, about two months after Ebbets Field opened. He died in 2008, about two months before Shea Stadium closed. Over the 95 years he spent on this Earth, he had many passions. He was the most loyal man I ever knew. He was fiercely devoted to his family and his friends, and his greatest love was for the game of baseball. The man was a walking baseball encyclopedia. He saw all the greats play. From Babe Ruth to Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider to Tom Seaver.

He fell in love with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they broke his heart when they left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. His heart broke a little more when Ebbets Field was brought crashing down by a baseball shaped wrecking ball a few years later. In 1962, the Mets arrived, and my Grandfather's passion began anew. If it wasn't for him, I would probably still be a Mets fan. I would've probably set foot in Shea tons of times. But he taught me how to be a die hard. He showed me why the game of baseball was so important. Through his loyalty to the Mets, I learned how to be loyal - both to my baseball team and to the friends and family that I loved.

While Citi Field was being built, my Grandfather would say every once in a while how he didn't think he'd be around to see Opening Day in the new ballpark. We'd laugh it off, since we all thought he was invincible. But like every one of us, he wasn't invincible. The night before he passed away, when he was struggling for every breath, he said one last unprovoked thing to me. He lifted his head slightly and whispered "How'd the Mets do?" It was the last thing he ever asked me.

After I watched the final piece of Shea Stadium tumble to the ground today, there were a lot of things running through my mind. I thought of my Grandfather imparting his knowledge of the game to me, thought of my Father bringing me to Shea starting in 1986 when I was 3 years old, and I thought about all of the memories that the magnificent ballpark had given to me.

My story is one of millions. Mets fans are extra special. The vast majority are descendants of old Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants fans who lost their teams, but never lost their love for National League Baseball. Mets fans deal with agony, sit through sunny days and rainy nights. We're full of hope. It's the reason why mid-April games at Shea in the rain with 12,000 people in attendance sounded like there were 120,000 there. Those 12,000 were all die hards, and they were there to scream their heads off.

No matter how old I was, whenever I passed Shea Stadium on the highway - whether it was in the dead of winter or the middle of the summer - I'd stare at it as I passed by, and then crane my neck until it was out of view. I loved everything about it. It wasn't much from the outside, but the inside was a different story. I ran up the ramps, and always had to sit in my seat and take it all in before I went for food. I loved the smell of the beer and hot dogs, the smell of charcoal burning outside the park.

Shea would engulf me. The scoreboard in right field was enormous, the four seating levels were bright and full of life. The field seemed like something out of a dream. Even though the team on the field didn't always live up to expectations, a trip to the ballpark always did. As people get older, they tend to sit at home and watch their big screens. Going to the game is a hassle for them. For me, and millions of other Mets fans, going to Shea was a way of life.

I was there in the summer of 1986, but my Father had to bring me home because the sun was burning the hell out of me. I remember begging to go to the ballpark in September of 1993, when I was 9, and I ended up seeing Sid Fernandez's last game as a Met. I was there during the down years after that, still cheering my head off. I was at Shea for Benny's blast in the NLDS, Bobby Jones' 1 hitter, Cliff Floyd's walkoff homer after Marlon Anderson's inside the parker. I was at Shea when the Mets clinched the NL East in 2006, and I was sitting in the Upper Deck between third base and left field when Endy Chavez made that catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. It's my fondest memory of the place. It's the loudest I ever heard Shea, and the Upper Deck was swaying so ridiculously that my father thought it might give out. I told him I'd go down with it if it did, and I meant it.

The Mets lost that game, and they haven't been back to the Playoffs since. But no matter what happens on the field, the die hard fans remain. We're there for all of the wins and sit through downpours and 10-1 thrashings by cellar dwellers. We stay because we love the game and the Mets, and we stay because we have hope. We have hope that our team will win it all this year. We stay loyal to this team because we can't imagine our lives without them.

My Grandfather will never set foot in Citi Field. He won't watch Opening Day from his favorite chair, and he won't be there to talk to me about the game when it's over. Even though he isn't here, he lives on in me. Beyond baseball, he taught me how to be a man. He showed me how to speak with actions, not words. When Shea came down this morning at 11:21, I thought of him. When I go to my first game at Citi Field, I'll silently thank him for being the person who made me love this game and this team so much.

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