04.07.09

Exhibitionism, or First Day at Not-Shea

Posted in Baseball, New York, New York, Ugly New Stadiums at 9:40 pm by

There is a tendency…well, there are two tendencies. There are many tendencies, in general, but two I’m going to write about here. The first is the tendency of Mets fans to ascribe certain general broad-stroke human/sports-fan traits to Mets Fans, as if they are the only ones who have picked up a tragic sense of life or a worldview reflecting a certain specific flavor of reflexive mordancy. This tendency is obviously kind of BS, in the same way that certain Red Sox fans view themselves as tragic heroes redeemed or Cubs fans like George Will imagine that their fandom indicates some deeper thing. But I am only a Mets fan, and have only been a Mets fan — I know what Mets fans do, because I do it. This is why I am mentioning this up top, before I talk about what my first trip to CitiField Not-Shea was like. If I get lost in The Mets Fan’s Unique Sense of X, please understand that I 1) at least know I’m doing so and 2) apologize for it.

Tendency the second (which does not just apply to Mets fans, of course, of course), then. This would be the way that we go about wrapping our personal aesthetic and political prejudices and preferences around our circumstances. This applies uniquely to Mets fans only in the sense that it justifies the fact that many of us were at least a little emotional over the demolition of Shea Stadium after last season. Even as we watched Not-Shea rising beyond the outfield — seeing that, no less, from our crummy plastic seats in that cloddish, cold poured-concrete urinal of an architectural relic — there was the sense that it would somehow never be a real home. Shea was that, even if it was not much else, even if it was a tacky, chilly, teardown of a home. No one who remembers anything good about the Mets remembers it happening anywhere but Shea (well, maybe some road wins or whatever). And that, in the way that we all kind of do this — Mets fans with Shea, but also this Mets fan with a couple shitty bars or songs or whatever that evoke particular moments in time, and probably you with your own set of emotional mnemonics — made Shea something we could miss. Even if, this side of the neon baseball dudes on the exterior, there wasn’t anything concrete about the place that was actually worth the missing.

And it’s fully in the past-tense now. This was, as much as anything, the first thing I noticed when I went out to Not-Shea last Saturday. This big, clean, fancy new stadium in front of me, and I was looking around for Shea, or whatever was left of it. The answer is basically nothing, or nothing but a fenced-off hillock of rubble and rusty steel with a sign propped up against the fence declaring the location “The Future Site of CitiField, home of the New York Mets.” To read that sign, you’ll have to stand with your back to the actual CitiField. To actually go see the Mets, you’ll have to turn around.

And there it is. The big fake Ebbets Field edifice that’s been talked about since the first stories on the design — by ubiquitous ballpark architects HOK, now known (in that faintly sinister nonsense brand-language way) as Populous — came out. No Mets fans I know was really that excited for the new stadium, honestly. It was like a haircut or a tetanus shot or some other dullish, unobjectionable practicality: something that is obviously worth-it-unto-necessary, but which is kind of tough to get psyched about. Shea wasn’t about to fall down, it wasn’t leaking or awash in nine-ounce roaches or anything like that — it was built to last, if clearly built with only that in mind. But it was time. Everyone else was doing it.

And, in a sense, Not-Shea is very much the stadium that everyone else is getting. Yes, there is some appropriating of local baseball history and architectural texture into the place — the ballyhooed rotunda (actually echo-y and municipal when I was there has videos of Jackie Robinson playing on an endless flatscreened loop, a statue of his number 42 in (Brooklyn) Dodger blue, is lined by an array of pictures and quotes; there’s also a nod to Queens’ Hell Gate Bridge in dead center and the seats are Polo Grounds green and the rotunda itself is modeled after Ebbets Field. (I’m jacking much of that from Nicholas Ourousoff’s New York Times review of this and the new Yankee Stadium, if you were curious) All very HOK-y, and all totally respectable and respectful and unobjectionable and…

…and actually kind of cool, actually, once you get in there. There was, of course, a lot of photo-taking going on (including by me, as you can see in the pics GC has kindly interspersed here) among the people there that day. (I’ll mention, here, that the game itself — which is already old news — was awful; Ollie Perez was bombed early, the Mets quickly sent a succession of fringe guys and Double-A anonymities to their doom against Dice-K and the Sox bullpen, et effing cetera) But the general sense of the crowd was less acquisitive (beyond the kids near me who were unflaggingly pestering players for autographs all game) or dutifully photojournalistic than it was bemused agape. For the first time in any Mets fan’s life, they were playing someplace new.

And while discovering the scope of that newness offered a few thrills of its own — here’s the old Shea home run apple, in its own little quasi-chapel space near the bullpen gate; there’s the actual (and actually delicious-smelling) food court, complete with Shake Shack and Blue Smoke and Tacqueria and some ultra-daunting lines — there was a bigger sort of awe going on. It wasn’t an awe unique to Mets fans in Not-Shea, I’ll grant. Kids get it, too, their first time in a hotel room.

I caught a lot of people looking up at the girders and the blinking billboards or even staring at the ubiquitous flat screens that played Geico commercials before the game and the SNY feed during it. Or just looking up, into the middle distance, where the stadium (rather gracefully) hulked around us. I saw an old editor of mine — who had been there before, had even written about it already — with that same moon-faced awe on his face. “I’m kind of surprised to say this,” he said, “but that bridge in center is pretty cool.” There was a lot of that; everything seemed to go slower because of it, as if the concessions guys and ushers were still finding new things about the place to pay attention to. There was a lot of that even on my part.

At the risk of pushing my luck, reader-patience-wise, I’m going to write a bit more on this Wednesday.

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