bestnom1000x50

Curtain call time for Shea + Yankee stadiums

My most memorable baseball memory -- as with many enthusiasts -- is that of attending my first professional game. Dad and I sat way in the upper deck at Shea Stadium, not long after the Miracle season of 1969, and it was incredibly exciting. We seemed to be up in the stratosphere, yet the grass, far below, had that lustrous green that signifies baseball, and the whole experience was enthralling. It might be a bit of apocrypha, yet I recall Tommie Agee stealing home.

That's why I will always retain some fond feelings for Shea, not the most beautiful venue for baseball, which is due to be taken apart after this season. Yesterday's New York Times had a succinct eight-page baseball preview (Murray Chass picks the Sox to win the AL East) focused mostly on how this will mark the last seasons for Shea and for Yankee Stadium.

At Shea Stadium, five dollars sometimes covers the cost of a seat way at the top of the upper deck but not the Sherpa to lug the oxygen tanks. The view is comparable to that from the ubiquitous low-flying planes, whose passengers, if so inclined, could reach out the window and take a bite from your Italian sausage. Buying another one would involve navigating a concourse roughly the width of a coffee table and sidestepping the bathroom line that started forming five innings earlier.

By any objective standard, Shea is bleak and outdated. It has not aged, shall we say, gracefully, its imperfections and architectural shortcomings growing more prominent over the years, particularly as glorious baseball-only parks have sprouted around the country. Those flaws are now magnified by Citi Field, the Mets’ new home in 2009, whose beatific presence beyond Shea’s right-center-field fence prompted Ron Darling, the SportsNet New York analyst and former Met, to make this comparison: “It’s like driving a VW bus with a Maserati in the lot.”

Yankee Stadium, of course, has a much richer history, even if the dopes at Sons of Sam Horn call it "the toilet," because of its large and somewhat bland quality. I've seen a few games there over the years. The best was when Tim Wakefield and Randy Johnson squared off in a pitchers' duel on September 11, 2005, when Wakefield, I believe, set a career high in Ks, but got beat (the Sox lost, 1-0), when Jason Giambi hit a homer over the short porch in right.

Building a new stadium, and a more lucrative revenue stream, seems in keeping with the character of the Yankees. I'll take Fenway any day.

And even Rich Gossage can't help himself in memorializing the House that Ruth Built:

Gossage pitched there before and after the [ 1974-75] renovation, and in retirement he has seen games from the stands. Gossage is a big man — 6 feet 3 inches, 217 pounds — but the corridors and leg room are limiting for all sizes.

“There’s lines a mile long for bathrooms and everything,” Gossage said. “You’re going to get to see a lot more baseball and see it a lot better way.”

Yet whenever Gossage starts to sound like a pitchman for the new Yankee Stadium, he softens and betrays some nostalgia for the old place. It may be that way all season for fans who have watched history — and players who have made it — for so many golden summers.

“It’s something they had to do,” Gossage said. “It’s necessary, it’s just a shame. It’s not going to be the same, I can tell you that.”

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