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FIELD TRIP OF DREAMS

AROUND THE MAJOR LEAGUES IN 49 DAYS


Shea Stadium
Queens, NY
St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets
August 1, 2003

By Ken Schlapp

Wow!  It is all coming to an end with a trip back home to New York to finish my 49-day journey across America to see baseball.  I started with Yankee Stadium (on the continental portion of the journey) to get past my least favorite team and finish with my beloved Mets at my 2nd home of Shea Stadium.  I started my trip home from Pittsburgh on July 31, 2003 with Efrem in the car, but I had to drop him off at the airport, so he could take the 45-minute flight home to New Jersey instead of the 6-hour drive with me.  To keep it simple, that is just Efrem being Efrem.  Not quite Manny being Manny, but the saying fits.  I would have to say that it is appropriate that the final piece of this journey was taken alone, because my life was about to change drastically.

As I stated in the write-up on Veterans Stadium, I did not really have a home any more, since I was splitting up with my wife of nine years, but I had not yet moved from our apartment in Ridgewood, and we were still friends.  However, when I reached my apartment for the first time since the morning of June 15, 2003, I unloaded the car, took out my key and tried to get in, but the key did not work.  This shocked me.  I could not believe that she would change the locks on me while I was away.  When I called her (we only spoke once since I had left), she reminded me that we had switched the lock from the bottom one to the top one before I had left.  So she had not changed the locks on me, I just forgot how to get in the house.  We both had a great laugh over that and I still chuckle about it now whenever I think about it.

Once I got semi-settled in back at “home”, I had a night to recoup before going to the final game of my journey at Shea Stadium.  I even got to see my Mets play the hated Cardinals.  I was seriously hoping to finish things off on a good note.  My trip started with the Mets being swept by the Expos in Puerto Rico in April and started the continental portion of the trip watching the Yankees win, so if I could finish with a Mets win in conjunction with a Cardinals loss, all would be good.  Thanks to Steve “Buster” Carmen, who played on the Gothams with me, and worked at AAA, I was able to arrange a personalized tour of Shea through Jill Grabill.  My sister Jacki, my brother-in-law Al, and Paul (from the beginning of the trip) were along with me for the last leg of the trip.

Lucky for me, the Mets and the weather did not disappoint me on this day…and as a typical life-long Mets fan I say that in a most cynical way.  With all the failures and losses the Mets have incurred over their history, combined with sharing the same city as the more successful Yankee franchise, along with their loud, boisterous, and possibly obnoxious fan base, Mets fans have developed a strong sense of cynicism.  As much as Mets fans may be dismayed by the abuse of Yankee fans, nobody knocks the Mets franchise as much as Mets fans do themselves.  I do resemble that remark.  Although an interesting statistic, regarding fandom in New York, regardless of what current Yankee fans will tell you, New York was a National League town until the mid-1990s.  In fact, up until that time, the Mets outdrew the Yankees almost every year between 1964 and 1993, with the exception of 1977-1983, when the Mets were exceptionally bad.  The Yankees were clearly second fiddle from 1984-1991, during that great stretch with Gooden, Strawberry, Carter, and Hernandez.  Unfortunately, that team somehow only won it all one time in 1986.

As far as the weather was concerned, I planned this trip from mid-June through the start of August because that is the time of year that I would be least likely to have a rainout that would throw off my whole schedule and keep me from seeing an actual game at every stadium.  Well, as we prepared to head to Shea for the final game, it was, of course, raining.  This somewhat threw off our tour, because part of the personalized tour would have been to be on the field during batting practice.  However, on this day, there was no batting practice.  Although, we did get to go in the dugout and to the door of the bullpens, which was a cool, but other opportunities were not available due to the rain.  The highlight on our quick tour was getting to see Bob Murphy in the press box.  Growing up a Mets fan listening and watching as many games as I possibly could, it is impossible not to hold a special place in your heart for the three long-lasting Mets broadcasters.  I am talking about Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy.  The three of them were there from the start in 1962, and in 2003, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner were still part of the Mets family.  Bob Murphy is especially famous for his happy recap on the days when the Mets win, so I was hoping for the happy recap today.

After seeing Bob Murphy, we walked through the suite level and ended up at the bar in the Diamond Club.  The great thing about the suite level is that you do get to see the photos of the Mets yearbooks from 1962 and beyond on the walls.  I had to stop and take a photo next to the 1976 yearbook with Mr. Met on the cover.  As I said at the beginning, my fanaticism all started when my brother Steve took me to my first Mets game on April 28, 1976.  I have been pathetically hooked ever since.  On that day, the Mets won 3-0 over the Braves on Dave Kingman’s 3-run homer in the first inning to give Craig Swan a shutout victory.  Kingman was my favorite, as well as Paul’s favorite when we were kids, so Paul got to take a photo next to Dave Kingman’s photo up in the Diamond Club.  The other great thing about the Diamond Club is that it also holds the Mets Hall of Fame display.  This is where you can see busts of Jerry Koosman and Tom Seaver as well as the 1986 World Championship trophy.  The Mets actually shared their history with their fans at Shea, which they did a poor job of when they opened up Citifield.  The other bonus of getting the tour of the Diamond Club was that the bartender used to work with Al, so he got to catch up with his friend.

As I look back now several years later, I noticed that I took very little notes for this game, but that was because I have been to hundreds of games here, so I can easily recant all the idiosyncrasies of this place like reading off the back of my hand.  To start, although we drove here today, I spent much of my life taking the 7 train to the game and getting off at Willets Point-Shea Stadium.  Once you get off the train, you can either walk one way to head into Flushing Meadows Park, where the 1964 World’s Fair was held and where the US Open Tennis tournament is now held every September (which certainly causes an overload of people for both baseball and tennis all at once on a few weekends a year).  Walk in the other direction and you head down the walkway towards Shea.  From the train platform, you could actually see into the stadium, and some of my friends used to bring their radio and listen to Bob Murphy call the game while sitting and watching from the platform instead of buying a ticket a  and heading inside. 

Around Shea, you have the park and the parking lot, but not much of anything else as far as food or entertainment to keep you occupied before or after games.  Unless, of course, you are interested in perusing through the junk yards that surround the backsides of the stadium. This is definitely a stadium that you go to the game and leave.  No need to malinger around for anything else.

To give a brief history on the Mets and Shea Stadium, I will start with the fact that the Mets played their first 2 seasons (1962 and 1963) in the Polo Grounds in Manhattan.  The Polo Grounds, as you should know, was the long-time home of the New York Giants before they abandoned New York (along with the Brooklyn Dodgers) for California in 1958.  The Polo Grounds was also the home of the Yankees in between Hilltop Park and the Original Yankee Stadium.  I bring up all three teams, because when the Mets began play their team colors were based on a conglomerate of the other three New York major League baseball teams.  The blue is Dodger blue, the orange is from the Giants, and the pinstripes are from the Yankees.  In addition, the interlocking NY on the Mets caps is the same one that the Giants wore for all those years.  The only difference is that the Giants cap had an orange NY on a black cap, while the Mets mostly have the orange NY on a blue cap.

Shea Stadium opened up in 1964 by Flushing Meadow Park in Flushing, Queens, which happened to be one of the places that the new Dodger’s Stadium was proposed to sit before they gave up on New York and betrayed all of their loyal fans in Brooklyn.  When Shea first opened up, the walkways on the outside of the circular multi-purpose stadium was covered in orange and blue panels (team colors), which is how I remember it from when I first went there in 1976.  However, in 1980, the Mets refurbished the outside of the Shea by removing the panels.  This also the season the Mets began with a new slogan: “The Magic is Back” and started using the Home Run Apple.  The Home Run Apple was kept in a magic hat and rose out of the hat whenever one of the Mets hit a home run.

The New York Jets also played their home games at Shea from 1964 to 1983, before moving to Giants Stadium in New Jersey.  My brother had season tickets for the Jets, so I had the pleasure of seeing many football games at Shea as well as baseball.  In fact, I was at the very last football game at Shea in 1983, when the fans rushed the field after the game and took down the goalposts.  Note that I did not rush the field, but an interesting tidbit about that game was that it was also Terry Bradshaw’s last game.

While the original Yankee Stadium was being rebuilt into a new stadium (which I call Yankee Stadium II, since it became a completely different place than the house that Ruth built), the Yankees also played at Shea during the 1974 and 1975 seasons.  In addition, the New York Giants also played football at Shea in 1975, which led to the only time in history that two baseball teams and two football teams all shared one stadium for the same season.  The Yankees also played an additional home game at Shea against the Angels in 1998, while part of Yankee Stadium was falling apart.

As strange as it may be though, Shea stadium may be most famous for a non-sports event, which is, of course, when the Beatles showed up in 1965 and had their concert in Shea for their first live appearance in the States on their 1965 tour.  It was also the first time a major concert was ever played at such a large venue and started the trend of outdoor stadium concerts that are common today.

After the Jets left in 1983, Shea was refurbished with additional seats and fit to be a baseball only stadium.  Prior to that time, it was more of a typical 2-sport stadium built in the 1960s or 1970s.  I may be biased, but I liked the look and feel of Shea more than any of those others, but at the same time, I was happy when it was a stadium mainly set for baseball.  The final bit of refurbishing took place before the 1988 season by painting the exterior all blue and adding neon figures of ballplayers, such as a giant pitcher in one spot and a catcher in another location.

Now for some of the more important features at Shea, like the food.  The best food at Shea was the sausage and peppers.  Several East Coast stadium feature sausage and peppers on the menu, but they are best here.  The rest of the food is your standard hot dogs, pretzels, and beer, which are not very special.  However, there was also Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and Carvel ice cream, where you can have soft-served ice cream in a Mets baseball cap, which is always special.  Carvel was also my place of employment for 9 years and enabled me to pay own my way through college.  The concourses you had to walk through to get to the concession stands, however, were not aesthetically pleasing.  It was dark, drab, and simple cement with beams.  Shea does get a silver medal for 2nd worse bathrooms though.  There was always a long line for the men’s room and the plumbing was not always working either.

On the inside, the seating is set up on four levels plus the suite/press level.  The field level was yellow, the loge level blue, the mezzanine level green, and the upper deck was red, which was similar to the layout at Dodger Stadium.  The top of the upper deck was also the highest spot to view a baseball game from at any sports venue in the USA, and the staircase to get there was very steep and intimidating.  I will never forget the time I was there and a pretzel vendor dropped his container of pretzels down the stairs spewing pretzels all over the place.  Somehow, neither the pretzels nor the steel container hit or injured any fans on the way down.  However, after he picked up all the pretzels, left, and came back a little while later, all the fans in our section started chanting “Dirty Pretzels!”, which is something that would only happen in New York, which is one of the many reasons my home town is so special.

On the inside of the ballpark, the Mets history was embraced with retired numbers of Casey Stengel (37), Gil Hodges (14) and Tom Seaver (41) on the left field wall. While the right field wall was adorned with the Mets championship banners.  Up in the upper deck in left field fair territory there is a baseball plaque to commemorate the longest home run in Shea’s history, which was hit by Tommie Agee on April 10, 1969.  Although the accuracy of that home run is questionable. Throughout the stadiums ramps, corridors, and entrances there are photos of past and current Mets stars and key moments.  This is something the Mets got right at Shea; you knew this was the home of the Mets and some great Mets history.

My favorite part of Shea Stadium was the scoreboard.  It was huge, unique, and had everything you would want and need on a scoreboard.  You had your standard balls, strikes, and outs over the inning-by-inning scores and each team’s runs, hits, and errors.  To the far left, you had the American league scores with the current pitcher’s number next to each team plus the inning (or final - F, postponed - P or rain delay - R).  To the far right were the National League scores.  Below the scores for each league were rolling highlights from each of the day’s games.  The visiting team lineup was on the left (plus the time) and the home lineup was on the right (plus the umpires).  The two things that visually stood out though were the giant Budweiser sign and the New York City skyline on top, which was part of the Mets emblem.  After 9/11 the twin towers were not removed, but they were covered up with a red bow for remembrance.  The scoreboard was also a target for massive home runs.  If a player reached the board, it was a long home run.  I remember seeing Bobby Bonilla hit one half-way up the Bud sign for the Mets and Claudell Washington hitting the top of the sign against the Mets.  Both were unbelievable shots off this beautiful scoreboard.

The last, but not the least bit of Mets tradition at Shea is Mr. Met.  The Philly Phanatic may be the most energetic and amusing mascot, but Mr. Met is the most beloved.  Ask any Mets fan about Mr. Met and it will put a small on their face.  He is just part of drawing out the fans at every game, whether he is shooting t-shirts into the crowd from the field or walking around the stands to shake hands and take pictures with the kids.  There is also Cow-Bell Man, who is at every Mets game banging his cowbell and starting the “Let’s Go Mets” chants, but he does not have the same impact as Mr. Met.  He also has many of us wondering why he put the “-“ in “Cow-Bell”.  Mr. Met stands out because he even had a wife (Mrs. Met of course) and kids that would show up at the ballpark from time to time.  How many other mascots have a family?

I guess now I have to finish up by talking about the game, which was delayed by rain.  This was the first game on the entire 49-day journey that I had to sit through a rain delay.  It figures that it would be on the final day and be the Mets game.  Thankfully, it did start after only a one-hour delay.  Unfortunately, I had to put up with a lot of annoying Cardinals fans near where we were sitting.  In addition, there were Yankee fans wearing their Tino Martinez jerseys since they now loved the guy they hated for replacing Mattingly, and wanted to cheer for him on the Cardinals now that he is not a Yankee.  Just my luck that I have to deal with both Cardinal and Yankee fans during my last game.  Well for at least those few fans that actually stuck it out through the rain.

Before the game started, we did have the pleasure of watching Snoopy throw out the first pitch, the problem was that he might have been better than the Mets bullpen this game.  A plane flew by as he was pitching, just to make sure you knew you were at Shea Stadium, since LaGuardia Airport is basically down the block.  Steve Trachsel started for the Mets, which is somewhat funny considering he is known as the human rain delay because he works so slowly.  Jeff Fessaro started for the Cardinals and both pitchers threw a 1-2-3 1st followed by a leadoff home run in the 2nd.  Edgar Renteria hit the Cards homer and Cliff Floyd hit the Mets homer.  Doubles by Roger Cedeno and Joe McEwing gave the Mets a 2-1 lead in the 5th.

Trachsel pitched well and left the game after 6 and 2/3 innings having allowed only 1 run, 5 hits, I walk, and 4 Ks, which show up on the Konica K Korner down the right field line.  On the K Korner the current game K totals appear, which makes sense, but the season total is displayed as well, which to me is useless.  The other useless in-game Mets feature is the announcement that every time a Mets player hit a home run off the Keyspan sign a $100,000 giveaway takes place.  The sign is so high over the picnic area in left field that it is almost impossible for it ever to be hit and no player has even come close.  Not even Piazza.

During the 7th inning stretch, Mr. Met comes out to help the fans sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, which at the appropriate verse all Mets fans sing “root, root, root for the home team”  even though “home” is replaced with “Mets” on the scoreboard.  This completed my study on this 7th inning tradition and I have concluded that in every stadium but Shea and Yankee Stadium, “Home” is replaced in the singing version by the fans with the home team’s actual name.  I find it interesting that the Mets and Yankees fan are unique in this manner.  The difference comes afterwards, when Lazy Mary is blasted for Mets fans to sing along.  I have no idea why this is tradition, but it is.

Back to the game:  The Cardinals blew the Mets away in the 8th.  Bo Hart led the inning off with a pinch-hit single off of Jaime Cerda, who was immediately replaced by Dan Wheeler.  Pinch hitter Kerry Robinson greeted Wheeler with an RBI triple to tie the game at 2.  It got worse from there.  Albert Pujols and Renteria both walked before Scott Rolen hit a sacrifice fly, which moved all runners up and allowed Robinson to score.  Wheeler then intentionally walked Tino Martinez before Miguel Cairo and JD Drew each had 2-RBI doubles.  In the aftermath, the Cardinals scored 6 times (5 earned to Wheeler), to take a 7-2 lead, which they would not relinquish.  Rolen added an RBI double in the 9th, while the Mets did not muster and fight to come back and lost the game 8-2.  Unfortunately, my long journey both started with a Mets loss and would end with a Mets loss.

I would not give up that easy though.  I had to return the car I rented for the long drive the next morning at LaGuardia Airport.  After I returned the car, instead of heading home, I went right to Shea to try to see a victory, but I (or the Mets) failed again.  The Cardinals teed off on Jae Seo for 7 runs in 4 innings, including a 5-run 4th in which Bo hart hit a grand slam followed by the next batter JD Drew hitting a homer as well.  The Cards would end up building a 10-4 lead heading into the bottom of the 9th.  The Mets put together an amazin’ rally, including an error, a passed ball, and 3 wild pitches (including one on a 3rd strike to allow a base-runner), but left the tying run on 3rd base (Roger Cedeno, who had 4 hits), when Vance Wilson flew out to left (in his 2nd at bat of the inning he started as a pinch hitter) to end the game and my hopes of ending my trip with a happy recap.

Bottom line – This was my home away from home for many years, and although many people called it a dump, it was my dump… and I loved it.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium # 31
-Old Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 21)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 2)
-Miles traveled – 481 via Car (Totals: Driving – 18,353, Subway - 20, Air - 3,196, Total – 21,569)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Section - Field Box 2420, Seat 8 – behind 3rd base.
-Prices: Parking – $10.00, Beer – $5.50, Hot Dogs - $4.50, Program (including pencil) - $4.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – $4.50, Italian Sausage - $4.75
-Credit Card giveaway –  Mets T-shirt
-First Pitch -  8:06 PM
-Attendance – 23,578
-Results – Cardinals 8, Mets 2, W – Steve Kline, L – Dan Wheeler, S – None
-Home team record to date – 20 wins, 15 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 15 wins, 20 losses
-Lodging – Queens, New York

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