Literary Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium, a futuristic perfect circle ballpark cast in concrete over the ash piles of Flushing Meadows, Queens, has now gone dark forever. It will be replaced by CitiField, right next door. As a lifelong Mets fan and neighbor of Shea Stadium, I am upset to see the great building go and I don’t like the corporate label on the new ballpark. But at the same time, I’m grateful the Mets will remain in Flushing Meadows Park, and I like it that CitiField is architecturally based upon Ebbets Field, historic home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Needless to say, I loved Shea Stadium. I even wrote a book about it (I still say The Summer of the Mets was a damn great book, but nobody loves a self-published novel). I’ve probably seen at least sixty Mets games there, including the intense 2006 Mets, the doomed 2000 Mets, the boring 1995 Mets, the legendary 1986 Mets, the hapless 1973 “You Gotta Believe” Tug McGraw Mets, and, yes, my friends, when I was seven years old I saw Tom Seaver pitch against the Chicago Cubs with the “Impossible Dream” 1969 Mets. I also drove past the stadium about four billion times, saw the Police with Joan Jett and R.E.M. there in 1983 … me and that big concrete bowl go back a long way.

Shea Stadium is a very literary place. First, it’s built on a spot described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Don Delillo wrote a weird movie, Game Six, about one of the most famous World Series victories of all time which took place there — the same Game Six (1986, vs. the Red Sox) immortalized in Seinfeld and many other places. George Plimpton once wrote an April Fools day hoax story in Sports Illustrated about a barefoot Mets pitcher named Sidd Finch. Paul Auster’s City of Glass is about a Mets fan who goes insane (Mookie Wilson has something to do with it), and writers from Jonathan Lethem to Frank Messina have celebrated the team from various literary perches.

Shea Stadium is a major symbol in my novel Summer of the Mets, which nobody ever reads but which is a psychological study of a kid who suffers from extreme shyness. He has trouble with various social encounters, but then he goes to Mets games with his family and marvels at the human synchronicity — the cheers, the boos, the Wave — of the packed crowd surrounding him in Shea’s concrete perfect circle. He finds that Mets games are the only place where he can be part of a large crowd and not feel alienated.

I wrote about this because, of course, that’s the way I used to feel when I was a kid and went to Shea Stadium, and I guess in a way I’ve never stopped feeling that way about the place. I wonder if this is a common reason why people enjoy going to baseball games. If it is, I don’t think there could have ever been a friendlier or more welcoming place (not like that other ballpark uptown) to enjoy a baseball game than rollickin’ Shea Stadium, an unpretentious arena where New Yorkers have always been at their nicest.

I took my family to the last Shea Stadium night game ever last Friday (where we took the photo above). Our Mets got their asses kicked by the Florida Marlins, and now all postseason chances are blown, but we all had a great time and didn’t mind. Hopefully we’ll take the division next year at CitiField.

Hmm … assuming that next year there is still a Citibank to sponsor the place.

If not, we’ll go play stickball by the Globe.

Goodbye, Shea. You’ll remain a ghostly presence next to Grand Central Parkway forever.

9 Responses

  1. um…what’s happening to the
    um…what’s happening to the Shea Stadium organ?

    That magnificent organ that played…it was the soundtrack of my childhood.

  2. I think Shea Stadium held the
    I think Shea Stadium held the very first stadium rock concert, The Beatles in 1965.

    Here in Jacksonville, our stadium was called the “Gator Bowl” for years. I did not like it when they changed the name to the “Alltel Stadium.” Foul! Bogus! Then they changed it to the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, which is a little better, but I still liked Gator Bowl the best.

    As for you novel, Levi, I really enjoyed Summer of the Mets. I have often said that it does for that Mets game what the movie Apollo 13 did for that space mission; that is, even though I knew the outcome, I couldn’t help getting excited as the events unfolded.

  3. I remember that organ too,
    I remember that organ too, CF, but I’m afraid it must have been replaced by a long ago, since they’ve been playing recorded music for a long time. But yeah, that organ used to rock the place.

    Thanks for the compliments on the novel, Bill. I do appreciate your support. Yeah, I was going to mention the Beatles above, and I was also going to mention Joe Namath and the late 1960s Jets (who played at Shea), but I didn’t want to wear out everybody’s patience. There’s just too much to say about this place.

  4. Rutles played there. Kramer
    Rutles played there. Kramer got spit on there.

    What are ash piles?

    Summer of the Mets is a great book.

    Queensboro Ballads a great project.

    The whole area is intriguing and historic with the World’s Fair and the Globe statue, Robert Moses, the connection to Disneyland, Moses as arch enemy of Walter O’Malley, the reason O’Malley left — Moses wanted only to let him have the Shea site at Queens, not the Brooklyn site O’Malley wanted, then the Orange(Giants) and Blue (Dodgers) Metropolitans (a great and ancient baseball name) and now Ebbets to Queens.

    I hadn’t known until this article that the new stadium was to be modeled on Ebbets. When I fist read that I took it as the Polo Grounds, and was thinking, “are they going to have that horseshoe centerfield?

    Abraham DeLacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley

    New York is like a storied legendary foreign land to me.

    It’s a Small World After All

    When Sylvia Beach published Ulysses that was little different than self publishing.

    When I read a comment like yours, “no one cares about a self published book” it makes me mad. It shouldn’t be that way.

    I think what it is is that books need to be in stores.

    How to change things?

  5. TKG, here are the paragraphs
    TKG, here are the paragraphs where F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the site Shea Stadium stands on today. The “ash piles” (burnt trash) became the foundation of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The “foul river” he describes was the southern section of Flushing Creek, now a nice pond where you can rent a rowboat. The street where Dr. Eckleburg’s sign stands must be either Queens Boulevard or Northern Boulevard.

    From “The Great Gatsby”:

    “About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes–a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey
    men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.

    But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic–their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

    The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress.”

  6. I remember the giant eyeballs
    I remember the giant eyeballs and glasses from the Great Gatsby more than anything else.

    I didn’t realize that this big eyeball sign was in this area of Queens.

    The focus on the eyeballs in Gatsby struck me as a good example of how America’s best surrealistic art has been advertising, promotional or otherwise commercial.

    It’s more so today than ever.

  7. That was not a pleasant way
    That was not a pleasant way to leave Shea. 🙁

    This post did cheer me up a little, so thanks!

    I told my freshmen this semester that I was sad that they have never seen the Mets as World Series champs in their lifetime. Some day they will…hopefully!

  8. For ten years I lived about
    For ten years I lived about six blocks from Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. Not that it did any good. The Cubs never went to the World Series in all that time. In fact, they now have the longest World Series drought in baseball, after the Red Sox and White Sox got over their respective “curses”.

    Now, both the Cubs and the White Sox are in the playoffs. I am back in Chicago for a while, and the excitement is high. People are talking about a possible Cubs-Sox series, which last happened in 1906. You have to have a great deal of historical perspective if you are a Cubs fan. I just hope the Cubs get to the World Series once before I die. I they win I will die.

    The one thing the Cubs have had going for them all these years, good years and pathetically bad years is Wrigley Field. It was built at the beginning of the last (20th) century, and watching a ball game there is like going back in time. The walls are brick. Ivy hangs off the walls in the outfield. Sitting in the bleachers is like going to a party.

    So far the Cubs have resisted selling the naming rights of the stadium to some corporation, but it may come. All I can say is one of the joys of life is catching a day game at Wrigley, especially in July, while the Cubs are still hot and the weather not too. Still, this may be the year… Go Cubs!

  9. Been to Shea a few times,
    Been to Shea a few times, last time was World Series vs the Yankees. I attach Shea more to Joe Namath and the Jets as Namath was the hero for the young with his Super Bowl upset (not at Shea) and his clothes of the day (the fur coat) and his oozing coolness of the times. It will be missed though being a Yankee fan and catching the next to last weekend at the Stadium really was a sad moment, knowing I had put in 55yrs to Yankee religon and it’s vaunted Cathedral of Champions. I caught Mantle to Jeter and all the icons in between. The old parks are to be missed. The idea of using company names for hallowed grounds of the new places really is a let down also. Enron Field used in Houston for a time, just might be the tag name of our times.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!