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Last Game at Shea Stadium
Queens, NY
Florida Marlins at New York Mets
September 28, 2008

By Ken Schlapp

2008 was the Mets last season at Shea Stadium, which was my home away from home for so many years. I wanted to see as much of Shea as I could in that final season, so I bought season tickets and managed to show up for 73 out of the 81 home games.  Many people did not think too highly of Shea, but I loved the place.  I have nothing but great memories there, well, maybe a few heartbreaking losses too, but knowing that it would be torn down soon was tough for me to take.

I was there for opening day, and I would be there for the last game, which ended in true Mets fashion, with a loss that would cause them to miss the playoffs.  Regardless of the heartbreak at the end, I was still happy to spend as much time as possible in my beloved stadium in 2008.  My seats were in the upper deck in Box 747C, which was right behind home plate.  Even though they were up high, I still had a good view, and was quite happy to see the game from up on my perch.  Half of the fun of having those seats was the fact that I bought 2 tickets for each game, so I could share the last season with many different friends and family members.

During that whole season, and during 2007 (when I attended many games as well), I got to watch the transformation of the parking lot behind the outfield fences turn into a new stadium, which oddly enough would be a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers.  First thing to change, was the entrance to the 7 train station, which used to jut across the right field line over Roosevelt Avenue.  From this extended platform, my friends (and others) would sometimes stand upon it to watch the game from a distance while listening to the game on the radio to the sounds of Bob Murphy, hoping for a happy recap.  Now, that was no longer an option, there is now a stairway right on the edge of Roosevelt Avenue.  Then slowly over these 2 seasons, I watch this new Dodger Stadium slowly evolve from a flat parking lot to a larger and larger redbrick stadium.

It was definitely fun to watch the new stadium evolve, but continually in the back of my mind, I knew this meant the end of Shea was near.  Towards the middle of the season, the Mets were offering virtual tours of the upcoming CitiField within the confines of Shea Stadium.  Of course, I had to take the tour.  I got to see how the new stadium would look like the Dodgers old home in Brooklyn, Ebbets Field, and would have the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at the main entrance.  There would be several other features referencing old Dodgers as well.  Conspicuously missing, was any reference to the Mets history, which at this point was almost 50 years.  You would think they would have tributes to the Mets history and not the Dodgers, but Wilpon grew up a Dodger fan and wanted to bring his youth as a Dodger fan back to New York.  My theory on this is that the Dodgers abandoned New York over 50 years ago, so screw them.  I could not restrain myself from asking the tour guide whether the Mets would wear Dodger uniforms in the new stadium or stick to the traditional blue and orange.  He was annoyed by my question, but did indicate that many Mets fans have asked the same question, indicating, once again, how clueless the Mets leadership is.

So again, I soaked up all that I could in this last season of Shea, and incidentally, my first, and only, season as a season ticket-holder at Shea.  During this time, I really began to understand how badly the Mets organization understands their fans.  Before this time, I had season tickets for the Brooklyn Cyclones and the New York Knicks.  Since that time, I have had season tickets for the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Clippers.  My experience as a season ticket-holder for every organization, but the Mets has been exceptional.  I have gotten to meet many current and former players, was given many gifts, upgrades and perks, and generally given the Royal treatment.  All of those organizations charged season ticket-holders significantly less than face value for the tickets, while the Mets charged the same price to season ticket-holders and for individual tickets purchased during the season.  Never once, was I given the opportunity for anything special other than to pay full price for my ticket.  What makes matters even worse is that I know that the Yankees even charge season ticket-holders a discounted price!

Although I grew to despise the Mets’ cheap owners (The Wilpons or Coupons, take your pick), I still loved the Mets and would continue to sink or swim with them as a die-hard fan.  Like in 2007, the Mets would play well and stay ahead of the Phillies for much of the season, and would even hold a significant lead throughout September, but again started to crumble at the end of the year.  Going into the last game of the season, the Mets had fallen behind the Phillies and were tied with the Brewers for the wild card spot, meaning that they absolutely had to win the game.

As I said earlier, during this last season, I only missed 8 games, and two of them were games 79 and 80, because I had to go to Florida for an Officers Meeting for my company, which I was quite pissed about.  I had no choice and had to go.  What made it even worse was that I had to be at a company function on Saturday night, so I could not fly back until Sunday morning for the 1 PM last game at Shea.  Bad weather could destroy my plans to be at the last game, so I took a 6 AM flight to give me as much of a chance as possible to make the game.  As Murphy’s Law would have it, there was bad weather and a rain delay for the game, but I did manage to land at LaGuardia with plenty of time for the game…, which of course was delayed as well, but I would be there!

Coincidentally, the Yankees were also playing their final season in Yankee Stadium II (opened in 1976), but as opposed to the Mets, the Yankees were out of the playoff running at the time of their final game, while the Mets were still in it until the final game.  The fortunate thing for the Yankees and their fans, was that for their final game, there was no pressure of making the playoffs.  Their only worry was to make sure the celebration of their historic stadium would be top shelf…and it was.  They had a tribute to the past feats and players prior to the game, with many past greats on the field to celebrate the history of the soon-to-be demolished stadium with the utmost grace and dignity.  It was an amazing event.  The Mets, on the other hand, scheduled the closing ceremony of Shea Stadium for after the final game, which would end in catastrophic fashion.

I was able to watch Johan Santana’s masterpiece on the penultimate game of Shea’s history in a bar in Florida, which kept the Mets in the playoff hunt, but was still very upset I was not there in person.  As I mentioned earlier, I did make it in time to sit through a rain delay prior to that final game with a bunch of my friends from the Atlantic Base Ball Club.  However, I had to finish my experience at Shea, the way I started it.  That would be with my brother Steve.  He took me to my first game on April 28, 1976, when Dave Kingman hit a 3-run home run in the first inning and Craig Swan pitched a 3-0 shutout over the Braves.  I paid him back on this final game, but not to quite as positive results.

Before I go on with this last game I will reminisce by listing some of my greatest in-person memories at Shea:

That first game in 1976 with my brother

The game in the 70s when my dad fell asleep during extra innings and woke up yelling “Home Run!” when Mike Jorgensen had only hit a single

The many other games my Mom and Dad took me to, even though my Dad was not a sports fan, but my Mom loves the Mets

The Game Mark Klesin and I bought general admission tickets and managed to watch from the two seats in the first row right next to the Mets dugout.  That day, Wallace Johnson of the Expos joked with us through batting practice and ended up tossing a ball our way.  At that time, I had a longer reach and caught the ball.  Wallace then came over and signed it for me (he also signed Mark’s scorecard). I will never forget his kindness.

The game Gooden struck out Tony Pena (and 15 other Pirates) to break the rookie strikeout record

Another game against the Pirates when Gooden went 4-5 with a homer, 5 RBI, and a 12-1 victory

Gooden’s one-hitter

Terry Pendleton’s HR that broke our hearts in 1987

Bobby Bonilla hitting a homer high up on the Budweiser sign

Benny Agbayani hitting a 14th inning home run to beat the Giants in the 2000 playoffs.  I missed a big birthday bash for Aunt Kitty that my mom was upset about, but it was worth it

The day after when Bobby Jones pitched a one-hitter to clinch the Division series in 2000

Mike Piazza’s post-9/11Home Run on September 21, 2001 against the Braves

Carlos Beltran’s caught looking to end the 2006 season in the NLCS.  Immediately after that game, I cancelled my hotel reservations, car rental, and flight to Detroit for the World Series.  It is hard to forgive Carlos for that one, regardless of how great a curve ball Wainwright threw.

Back to this final game. I tried to soak up as much as I could on this day while trying not to get soaked.  During the rain delay, I hung out with the Atlantics under cover, but by the time the game started, I met up with my brother and headed to my seats in the upper deck.  I could not help but stare at my favorite scoreboard for the last time.  The ever-present lineups and out-of-town scores were perfect.  As much as I dislike Budweiser, the giant sign on the scoreboard was as much a part of Shea as anything else, so I cherished it for that.  I stared at the big black Hat hoping the Magic would be back and that the apple would pop up repeatedly during the game with Mets Home Runs.  I gazed at the bullpens wondering if a relief pitcher would enter the game in the team-specific baseball cap car, although that was long in the past.  I at least knew that I would get to see Mr. Met at some point during the game.

I waxed nostalgic throughout the game, while the Mets turned into wax.  Since the game started late, we were able to scoreboard watch from the beginning to see if the Brewers would lose and make it easier for the Mets.  Unfortunately, the Brewers did not comply, and the Mets needed to win the game.  At least we had Oliver Perez starting the game, so we were pretty confident (note that may be this New Yorker’s most sarcastic statement ever).  Perez, however, did hold the Marlins scoreless for the first 5 innings.  The only problem was that the Marlins’ Scott Olsen did the same.  Things only went down from there.  Cameron Maybin led off the top of the 6th with a ground-rule double and scored the game’s first run on a single by John Baker.  A single by Jorge Cantu, a fly out by Mike Jacobs and an intentional walk to Dan Uggla would end Perez’ night.  Joe Smith replaced him and promptly walked Josh Willingham with the bases loaded to increase the Marlins lead to 2-0.

Our spirits rose up in the bottom of the inning though, when Carlos Beltran hit a 2-run homer to tie the game up!  Neither team would score in the 7th, but the Marlins did not greet Scott Schoeneweis kindly in the 8th.  Wes Helms homered off him to give the Marlins a 3-2 lead.  The Mets then brought in Luis Ayala to face Dan Uggla, but the result would be no different, he homered too.  The Mets would threaten in their half inning with 2 outs.  Reyes it a ground rule double, followed by a walk to Beltran, but the inning would end when Carlos Delgado lined out to left field.  Three Mets pitchers held the Marlins scoreless in the top of the 9th, leaving the Mets one last chance to extend Shea Stadium’s history with a victory.

Ex-Met Matt Lindstrom came in to close the game for the Marlins in the bottom of the 9th.  Things looked bleak at Shea and the fans were as glum as could be with only a glimmer of hope.  David Wright led off, but he popped up to 2nd base.  Endy Chavez then grounded out back to the pitcher, leaving Shea Stadium down to one more out.  Damien Easley came to the plate, which left some hope considering he had a knack for late-game heroics with the Mets, and he came through to an extent by walking to bring up the tying run in the form of Ryan Church.  Let it be stated here, that Shea Stadium was closed and put to bed by a Church. Ryan Church flew out to center to end the game and Shea Stadium’s vaunted history.  At that moment it felt like I was at a funeral, and in fact I was.

After the loss, which officially ended the Mets season and Baseball at Shea, the crowd was so desolate, that I really felt like I was at the morgue, but we still had a closing ceremony to watch.  As I said above, the Closing of Yankee Stadium II was a happy celebration of the stadium’s past, while the closing of Shea was as depressing as could be.  I will again blame the Mets organization for blundering this event by having the celebration after a game in which the Mets Season could brutally end.  Do it before the game and the celebration would be special and happy, while after the game it was sad and depressing.

The Funeral started with Mr. Met tearing down the final number on the center field wall, which was at 81 at the beginning of the season.  The grounds crew brought out giant placards with photos of the Mets greatest moments throughout the outfield grass.  The Mets then brought out a procession of their past players one-by-one to circle around the infield.  Each of those former stars paid their final tribute by stepping on home plate on their way off the field.  Yogi Berra, who was a former player, coach, and manager of the Mets, but more famous for his long career as a Yankee (and his Yogisms) was the last player to step on home plate.    However, the final pitch would be made by Tom Terrific (Seaver or The Franchise), who would go down as the Mets Greatest pitcher and Hall of Famer.  He would of course throw that final pitch to Mike Piazza, who was arguably the best position player in Mets history, and likely the best hitting catcher of all time.  Based on the way the Mets history generally goes, we expected the pitch to be in the dirt and get by Piazza, but at least that did not happen.  It was not the best pitch, but it was good enough for Piazza to catch and end the Funeral and all the good and bad times at Shea.

At the end of that funeral procession, my brother and I were about as sad as you could be over a sporting event.  The Mets squandered a big lead for two consecutive Septembers, and ended Shea’s history in squalor. We sat and stared out at the field for the last time, before making our way down the ramps to exit Shea for the last time.  You could not help, but notice all of the signs with Mr. Met along the way down.  The ones we saw as follows left a lasting final memory for me:

“Mets Fans – the BEST fans”

“See You Soon”

“It Was great to see You!”

“Please Drive Home Safely!”

That was it; I would never see those signs or a game at Shea again.  What a miserable end to my home away from home.  It took me a while to get over that…or maybe I never have.  There was an impromptu fan gathering/celebration a few months later when the final pieces of Shea came down, but I could not bear to go see that, so this was my last memory of Shea. 

Bottom line – Shea was my second home that I have so many good and bad memories from, but none that I will ever forget.  It was a dump to many, but a palace of memories to me.  Shea, you will not be forgotten!  My mother made sure I had something left of the Shea when she bought me two seats from the Upper Deck for my 40th Birthday.  Thank You Mom!

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium  - N/A (still at 36)
-Old Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 38)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – CitiField (Total – 3)Miles traveled – 18 via Driving (Totals: Driving – 19,849, Subway - 38, Amtrak – 460, Air - 18,028, Total – 38,375)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – New York (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Upper Deck, Box 747 C, Seats 3 & 4
-Prices: Parking – $18 (but I took subway), Beer – $7, Hot Dogs – $5.25, Program (including pencil) – $8, Souvenir Soda Cup – None
-Credit Card giveaway –  None
-First Pitch -  3:04 PM
-Results – Marlins 4, Mets 2, W – Joe Nelson, L – Scott Schoeneweis, S – Matt Lindstrom
-Home team record to date – 24 wins, 19 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 19 wins, 24 losses
-Attendance –  56,059
-Lodging – Home - Manhattan

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